Patients are asking more questions and seeing more information online about providers and suggested treatment, but their actual decisions usually are not based on price, she says. That may be due in part to the fact that the Syracuse market is behind the curve regarding health plans and high deductibles, with many employers maintaining their traditional plans. But even the most motivated consumer will find it difficult to obtain the information needed to truly price shop among healthcare options.
"With all that New York State regulates, I can't believe they haven't made us post our prices yet," she says. "I think the state would like to, but some hospitals are driving the conversation by saying 'No way.' It's because they are higher-priced and they know it, so they're going to oppose making it easier for patients to compare."
Crouse Hospital posts prices online, but Boynton says making costs and quality metrics transparent is more difficult than it might seem. The information that can be made available publicly is limited by the hospital's ability to calculate the many variables that go into determining a patient's actual costs, she explains.
For most procedures and treatment options, the Crouse Hospital website provides data such as the number of surgeries performed at the hospital, the typical age, approximate payer mix, the average price to the hospital, and the average amount reimbursed by the payer. The commercial health plans have to be combined for the average price and reimbursement figures because their contracts do not allow the hospital to disclose detailed information on their agreements.
Boynton pushed for making cost information available to the public two years ago when she was chief financial officer, contending that other hospitals across the country (although none in the hospital's market) were leading the way and that posting prices just made sense. No other industry could get away with not disclosing prices, she says.
"If your car dealer calls and says the car needs more work, he tells you how much it's going to cost," Boynton says. "But you go to the doctor and they order a long list of tests and office visits, and nobody even talks about how much this is going to cost you."
The price listing received a lot of favorable attention when Crouse Hospital launched it July of 2014, and Boynton expected other hospitals in the area to follow suit. That hasn't happened yet, and she says the reason is that the level of consumerism in upstate New York is not high enough to make hospitals feel obligated to make the move.
While Crouse has not seen changes directly attributable to its price transparency initiative, the feedback from patients and families who have accessed the information has been very positive, Boynton says, adding that the online page receives between 40 and 60 hits a week.
A similar situation is found in North Carolina, where the healthcare industry is seeing a "rising but moderate amount of consumerism," says Doug Luckett, president and CEO at CaroMont Health, a 435-licensed-bed nonprofit hospital in Gastonia. Consumerism is still in the early stages, where people are learning more about their healthcare options and the related costs but not necessarily acting in a proactive manner. It's only been in the past two or three years that CaroMont has seen a rise in consumer behavior, first noted when CaroMont's financial counselors spent more time on the phone helping patients understand their options and their out-of-pocket expenses.
CaroMont is responding by increasing the educational opportunities for patients.
"We try to set expectations so that there are no surprises in the end, and that seems to be what they want most at this point. They don't expect a firm dollar figure, but they want to understand what range they can expect," Luckett says.
Gregory A. Freeman is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.