Ambra Health was joined by Erin Lane of the Advisory Board to discuss consumerism and imaging pricing strategy during a live webinar event. Erin shared what the major market forces are that are driving imaging facilities to reconsider their strategies.
New legislative requirements at the state level have been established with the goal of providing more pricing transparency to beneficiaries. At the national level, Medicare is working to create a public price transparency website to encourage consumer choice by providing accurate information around out of pocket costs. There have also been several efforts to steer patients to free-standing facilities over hospital imaging. A well-known case is that of Anthem, who denied CT and MRI coverage in hospital settings to patients that did not meet strict guidelines.
In states where patients have gained access to seeing prices of exams, health care consumers have been more likely to pick facilities that offer lower cost exams. The cost shifting of higher deductibles on to patients has caused them to take a much greater initiative in researching imaging exams and costs. Additionally, referring providers who are the most likely to hear patient complaints are also more likely to refer patients to more cost-effective facilities.
A survey conducted by the Advisory Board asked patients what they want from imaging exams and found that patients want high-quality exams, cost-effective exams, and fast results. Particularly, patients were turned off by poor access and attracted by competitive pricing. We found similar patient sentiments in regards to access in a study we conducted of over 1,100 patients. Our study found that 80% of respondents said they would like to have access to their imaging alongside their imaging report. An image-enabled patient portal offers the opportunity for patients to access imaging exams and reports and also receive updates and reminders regarding their appointment.
As patients are increasingly focused on their own care, it’s important than programs market around certain preferences. UCSF leveraged an advisory council to find what patients look for when finding an imaging center. They found that communication and education were key and were able to make a few key changes like enhancing their website blog. Education can also be incredibly important in reducing the enormous costs of patient no-shows. To learn more about eliminating this cost-burden, check out our blog here.
The question of pricing exams is even more complex. How can we establish high-quality imaging exams at a low cost? Facilities must be careful.
If you just focus on price, patients may have to get second exams or additional reads. However, if you just focus on high-quality exams you may place an undue financial burden on patients. When patients are presented with information on both the price and quality, they integrate both pieces of information and choose the highest value provider.
Sometimes patients don’t understand what they value. Facilities have used unique messaging like patient testimonials and videos, social media, and education around the routine breast and lung screening which are typically of no-cost to patients. When marketing to patients, avoid medical jargon. For example, a patient won’t care that your facility has an expensive 3T MRI machine, but they may care that this could cause them to avoid MR recalls.
There are several potential strategies to reduce costs. Some facilities have gone so far as to offer unused time slots to self-pay patients at lower rates. Another key strategy is to open a facility as a lower price site. Some key items to think through when developing a lower cost site include where you should locate the center to appeal to the most price-sensitive patients, determining if you enough capacity to fill the center, and then assessing the competitor make-up in that market. At Wake Forest Health, schedulers provide patients with appointments at all centers but then if the patient expresses price concerns, they are provided with the lower priced site of care. Considering targeted price cuts can be pretty risky but also has the potential to impact market share. Price cutting is a long and complex process depending on the contract cycle. Facilities should be cautious to make changes one a time, survey patients, and track volumes before and after cuts.
To learn more and watch the webinar, check out our on-demand viewing page here.