Patients should shop around for care, but often don’t

Patients should shop around for health care options, but often don't.

One of the mistakes many patients make when selecting health care providers is not comparing rates at nearby facilities. This happens for two primary reasons: First, many patients select a doctor or hospital out of loyalty or habit, making de facto choices that could cost them more money. Second, insurance companies and health care providers alike can guard the price for procedures very closely, making it hard for patients to determine exactly how much a treatment will cost. 

These issues make it less likely for patients to shop around, as experts suggest that consumers do. Routine procedures, from checkups to cataract surgeries, have a high rate of variability from  provider to provider, and choosing the more expensive option can lead to out-of-pocket costs that are challenging for patients. With price comparison tools, some providers and insurance companies have aimed for greater transparency in the industry, yet cases of patients committing to more expensive care than they can reasonably afford persist. This leads to great financial strain and the accumulation of debt for medical expenses, which health care administrators are then responsible to collect. 

The Health Care Cost Institute reports that for an MRI, the differential between MRIs at different facilities can be as great as $342, while first time visits to a new doctor can vary by $19. Though those figures might seem low compared to the volume of debt some patients accrue, the costs add up for those whose conditions require extensive care. The disparity between the cost of a single treatment varies from state to state, though across the country, patients typically receive multiple billable services in a single medical visit, according to Modern Healthcare. 

To address the problem, care facilities and insurers have developed comparison tools that may become more widely available in the coming years. Until then, healthcare management administrators can outsource receivables management to relieve their caseloads and focus on the most important items.