Relevant, Accurate Health Care Price Information Difficult to Find Online

HealthDay News — Overall, 17% of websites provide geographically relevant health care price estimates relating to specific interventions, according to a research letter published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Allison Kratka, from Duke University in Durham, NC, and colleagues examined the availability of price information for four nonemergency medical interventions. Searches were conducted for 8 US cities, and results were included from 1726 websites from 64 searches; 1346 of the websites were not advertisements.

The researchers found that 21.9% of the websites were price transparency sites relevant to the intervention in question; 28.4% linked to single providers/clinics; 4.7% provided quality information without prices; and 27.6% and 17.4%, respectively, provided generic information and unrelated information. Across health care interventions the categories of search results differed significantly.

Seventeen percent of sites provided geographically relevant price estimates, with significant variation by intervention. There was a difference by location in the proportion of websites providing at least 1 geographically-relevant price estimate, varying from 27.3% in Chicago to 7.1% in Baltimore. Most websites did not specify whether the price quoted was the consumer’s out-of-pocket cost; there was considerable variation in the prices listed on the sites within interventions.

“Our findings suggest that there is substantial room for improvement in providing consumers with ready access to health care prices online,” the authors write. “Policy makers should consider mandating that payers and providers make these prices available to consumers.”

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Kratka A, Wong CA, Herrmann R, et al. Finding health care prices online — how difficult is it to be an informed healthcare consumer? [published online December 4, 2017]. JAMA Intern Med. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.6841