Patients As Consumers: Results from the NPR-Thomson Reuters Health Poll

Are patients beginning to “shop” for healthcare? According to the latest NPR-Thomson Reuters Health Poll released in April of this year, 16% of consumers said they had researched pricing information before receiving healthcare services, up from 11% in the 2010 poll.  Although 16% isn’t a majority of consumers, a 5% increase in two years may signal an emerging pattern of patients acting more like consumers.

Why are patients acting more like consumers?

While the study does not directly address this question, there could be several answers. First, patients have access to more information than ever before. With the internet, patients can easily research diagnoses and treatments. Social networks allow consumers to instantly connect with other patients to share information. Additionally, health insurance companies, employers and healthcare service providers are giving patients access to information regarding healthcare service pricing. The NPR-Thomson Reuters poll results indicate that when the patients researched healthcare prices, 50% of respondents obtained it from their healthcare provider’s office and 49% obtained it from their insurance company. This was a considerable shift from the 2010 poll which showed 60% of respondents obtained pricing information from their healthcare provider’s office and 26% obtained the pricing information their health insurance company.

Another reason for the rise in consumer-minded patients could be the increased popularity of the high-deductible health plan. High-deductible health plans have lower premiums, but require that patients pay a higher deductible. When patients are faced with paying a higher deductible, they may be more apt to research the cost of the healthcare services that they’ll be receiving.

Finally, the economy may play a role in the surge of patients researching healthcare pricing. Patients may have a lower household income, and in turn a smaller portion of their budget that they can devote to healthcare services.  To get the best value, consumers then research and compare costs prior to receiving services.

No matter the reason, as patient demand for access to healthcare costs increases, transparency in healthcare pricing will also increase. As a patient, do you “shop” for healthcare services?

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