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Price Shopping is Influencing Healthcare Choices

Analysis  |  By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   September 27, 2018

A large majority of survey respondents, 72%, said there is no connection between the cost and quality of medical services.

An increasing number of patients, especially millennials, are price shopping for their healthcare, and that price information is influencing their choices, a new survey shows.

The 2018 UnitedHealthcare Consumer Sentiment Survey found that more than one-third of respondents (36%) said they have used the internet or mobile apps during the past year to compare the quality and cost of medical services.

That’s up more than four percentage points from just a year ago.

It's also a 257% increase from 2012, when just 14% of people said they had done price shopping.

This healthcare shopping trend is most pronounced among Millennials, 51% of whom say they shop for healthcare services online, up six percentage points from a year ago.

Telling patients how much healthcare services cost, pricing those services competitively, and giving patients a way to pay upfront are three key elements that hospital revenue cycles need to employ to catch up with the larger healthcare consumerism trend.

Price shopping is also impacting patient decisions about where they get their healthcare.

One in 10 patients who comparison-shopped said that doing so prompted them to change both the healthcare provider and the facility they ended up using for the researched service.

Although most comparison shoppers—84%, up 4 percentage points from a year ago—described the process as "very helpful" or "somewhat helpful," there's still room for improvement.

Among people who said that the comparison-shopping experience was not helpful, 42% said the estimates were confusing or not easy to understand.

In addition, 26% said the results lacked key quality or cost information, and 7% said the information they found wasn’t customized for their health plan.

Overall, 72% of survey respondents said there is no connection between the cost and quality of medical services.

There's some research to back up their belief. For instance, a recent analysis showed that when it comes to cost and quality metrics, academic medical centers tend to trail non-academic medical centers.

There's also data supporting the idea that publishing prices can be beneficial to hospitals as well as patients.

A recent Johns Hopkins study showed that publicly listing prices for common surgeries helped to boost revenue and patient satisfaction.

Full results from the UnitedHealthcare survey are available online.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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