It was 2015 when I began hearing from clinical colleagues about patient and family satisfaction with our approach to care. The health system’s most important audiences appreciated receiving data about outcomes and quality/safety information.
While there was fraternal pride in what we were accomplishing, the overriding feeling was that the business side of the house wasn’t doing nearly enough to show potential customers the same level of transparency.
At the time, prevailing wisdom among hospital administrators was that healthcare was a business unlike any other. While other industries were embracing technology to improve the customer experience, we mostly made excuses when it came to online posting of quality/safety data and prices. No doubt many of you have heard some variation of, “it’s too complex” … “there are too many variables” … and “our managed-care contracts require pricing confidentiality.”
None of that mattered to consumers.
In our business, I saw three factors converging: the growing expectation that technology should be used to deliver a frictionless customer experience; skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for medical services; and general dissatisfaction with the often-secretive nature of healthcare pricing.
It was then our team determined we needed to deliver an Amazon-like experience that would include:
- Leveraging websites and technology to remove obstacles to the acquisition of healthcare services.
- Providing a firm quote of the most relevant cost for procedures.
- Calculating out-of-pocket requirements, with insurance deductibles and co-pays accounted for, to provide an “out-the-door” price.
- Providing access to financing options.
- Offering clear information about treatment options and outcomes.
- Enabling online scheduling, payment, and reviews.
The ideas were definitely radical at the time. Hospitals had always relied on trust within doctor/patient relationships as its distribution channel and were skeptical of depersonalizing the experience into something more transactional.
What skeptics failed to see was information readily available on the internet was already disrupting healthcare’s business model. While that knowledge might not change how hospitals treated patients clinically, it did modernize how consumers acquired medical services.
The application we’ve implemented (price.mhs.net) has two pricing tracks, the first providing firm quotes for persons without insurance and the second for those with insurance. Prices are available for more than 330 services, with the website verifying the consumer’s insurance for those that provide policy specifics. Once the desired service is selected, various databases are mined to identify the potential customer’s benefit structure, deductible, co-pay, and co-insurance status to determine their portion of the contracted price.
More than $1.5 million in revenue was recently tracked to a random sample of 300 online quotes (from 5,000 user visits per quarter). While we can’t attribute all those dollars solely to online transparency, we can be sure we’ve delivered a better customer experience.
Moving forward, healthcare providers need to offer this type of real-time price transparency experience, including objective quality reporting, or risk seeing their trusted patient relationships disintermediated by others. Functionality and the user experience are obvious priorities, so involve revenue-cycle representatives, web development and marketing teams. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get input from patients and families, since they’re the ones ultimately choosing who will provide healthcare services.
The online journey isn’t complete for my organization, and likely never will be for any provider that remains committed to innovation and delivering the best customer experience possible. We need to remain consumer-focused, offering individuals a more curated and personalized experience. The consumerization of healthcare information and comparisons based on price, quality, and safety will become commonplace as we manage more and more of our lives digitally.
While change is never easy, especially in an industry where transparency has traditionally been as easy to spot as a needle in a haystack, consumers have spoken. The expression “adapt or die” is especially fitting for an industry in the business of saving lives. That includes saving its own.