While surgical price transparency is gaining popularity among facilities seeking a competitive edge, researchers report that online cost comparison tools may actually end up increasing healthcare spending.
For their study, published in JAMA, the Harvard Medical School researchers found that only a small percentage of eligible employees at 2 large companies used an online price transparency tool to help them understand what their out-of-pocket costs would be. But, they note, those that used the tool did not lower their overall healthcare spending.
They compared annual outpatient spending among employees offered the tool against that of employees from other companies who couldn’t access it, in the years before and after the tool was introduced. They also looked at average employee out-of-pocket spending and how frequently the price transparency tool was used among employees.
In the first year after the tool was introduced, only 10% of employees used it at least once, the researchers found. They also discovered that average outpatient spending among employees who were offered the price transparency tool increased in the year after it was introduced, from $2,021 to $2,233. In comparison, average outpatient spending among employees who were not offered a price transparency tool increased from $1,985 to $2,138.
Additionally, the researchers found that the use of the tool was associated with an average increase of $59 in out-of-pocket spending among employees who used it. While they admit that further research is necessary, they suggest these findings demonstrate that patients incorrectly equate higher prices with higher quality.