Mainstream media reporters continue to make hay out of the lack of price transparency in medicine. Last week saw an WBUR/NPR reporter tell her story about trying and failing to find the best price on an MRI scan her doctor recommended.
What many news reports fail to mention, however, is that providers are often as eager for price transparency as patients, insurers and employers. The problem is that it is much easier said than done.
Against this backdrop, SaveOnMedical.com, a spinoff from Tampa, Fla.-based radiology management firm Atlantic Health Solutions, is offering a solution for private-pay imaging patients who want to shop for the best deal. It's early success in radiology offers evidence that far from fearing price transparency, many providers want it as well.
The service is free for the patients. The funding comes from providers who sign up to be listed and pay a booking fee when a patient makes an appointment. The company also assists providers in helping develop a self-pay strategy with rates based on their local market.
“It really grew out of our own desire to take control over our pricing and have a self-pay strategy that wasn’t just commoditizing the process,” explains Matt Schneider, vice president of marketing at Atlantic Health Solutions and a SaveOnMedical founder.
In year two of SaveOnMedical's existence, the list of radiology groups using the website to market themselves to self-pay patients continues to grow. Among the latest and largest to sign on is Excellerad with its nationwide network of radiology providers.
However, it has also been popular with smaller private practices who seek to remain independent and need a targeted marketing approach that goes primarily to patients who have a prescription for an imaging procedure. One such group is NY-based Rosetta Radiology.
“As hospitals and hospital systems grow, they are expanding their reach and purchasing more and more private practices,” says Deb Bergsohn, head of Physician Relations at Rosetta Radiology. “For a specialist to stay alive and compete with acute care offices, price decreases, marketing and strategic thinking must become a part of everyday operations. Even the best insurance plans can come with extremely high deductibles, and it’s nice that we can support our patients—and those who are uninsured—and guide them to SaveOn.”
SaveOnMedical's founders started with radiology because they had experience in that realm. However, the model could potentially work for other medical services.
What makes it somewhat different than other websites offering price data on medical services is that like the travel site Hotels.com, it allows patients to lock in the price on the site by booking their appointment through the secure online portal. A benefit of this for the provider is that online booking and price transparency up front cuts down on no-shows among self-pay patients, Schneider says.
"I'm embarrassed to admit this, but sometimes I've made a reservation and then continued to call around and forgotten to cancel the first reservation when I found a better deal elsewhere," he says. "Patient who are self pay and are shopping around do this, which leads to more no-shows for these patients."
The service also fills a gap for referring physicians who are under pressure from shrinking reimbursement and can no longer devote administrative staff to calling around for price lists and doing comparison shopping for their patients, Schneider explains.
SaveOn is still fairly new and lacks signed on practices in many parts of the country, limiting its usefulness to patients. But with demand for price transparency coming from all sides, including providers, SaveOn and other online efforts to create price transparency could be on to something.
Additional reporting by Greg Thompson.