When it comes to selecting a physician, only 10% of patients consider changing doctors — and only 4% compare prices — when making their choice. Significantly, this was the case regardless if the patient was on a traditional or a high deductible health plan, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine research survey.

Healthcare consultants often beat the consumerism drum, chanting that high deductible plans will subdue the trend toward higher healthcare costs. But the results of the JAMA survey would indicate otherwise. Perhaps costs are reduced due to care deferral or avoidance, but not due to purchasing decisions influenced by provider pricing.

Bloomberg News

Now why is this? It’s clear to me that the price comparison tools available to the public don’t make it easy enough for consumers to make informed decisions. It is not enough to know which provider is less expensive; patients must have the confidence that they are getting quality professional services. While the carrier “starring” systems are a start in this direction, they are not sophisticated enough to influence provider selection. Yet interestingly, about half of those surveyed said they would use additional sources of healthcare pricing information, if they were available.

Technology solutions to the rescue

A great deal of capital is being thrown at this dilemma. At Frenkel Benefits, we recently became aware of a new product, Zest Health’s Smart Concierge, which we will be rolling out through a partnership.

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"It’s clear to me that the price comparison tools available to the public don’t make it easy enough for consumers to make informed decisions."

This mobile application provides a medical condition research tool and, using third-party pricing and quality measures, steers patients to the highest quality, most effective providers based on their network of doctors. Users also can access a live nurse case manager who not only will answer questions, but can also assist in appointment scheduling and claim resolution. This ZocDoc meets Health Advocate meets Castlight solution is affordable for the employer — especially when considering the potential savings from increased in-network utilization and the use of lower cost, more effective providers.

The pessimists will say that it will still be a challenge to get employees and other healthcare consumers to open the app. But we optimists like to think of the Zest Health solution as another field of dreams.

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