Friedman: Why patient price sensitivity is really an access issue

The Reading Room

Gauging the Prevalence of Price Sensitivity among Consumers

Price sensitivity in imaging is certainly on everyone's minds right now given the economy and increasing number of patients covered under high-deductible plans. News pieces like this one regarding MRI pricing at Sutter Davis Hospital in California are also grabbing headlines and shifting further attention to this issue. Unfortunately, this is an area where hospitals have a hard time effectively competing with non-hospital outpatient imaging centers. We discussed dealing with price sensitivity in our national meeting study, "Imaging's Transforming Landscape" and also in a dedicated webconference, "Assessing Price Sensitivity in Outpatient Imaging."


While important to measure the price sensitivity in one's market, we've counseled a cautious approach here, in part because it's unclear just how price sensitive the market actually is. Certainly there is anecdotal data saying that price sensitivity is on the rise- 91 percent of member respondents on our 2010 Imaging Volume Trends Survey agreed that patients are more sensitive to co-pays and deductible amounts than they were last year. However, a recent survey from Thomson-Reuters finds that only 10.9 percent of patients actually looked for pricing information before receiving healthcare services or treatment.

While only one data set and not specific to imaging, this new survey does shed some light on the degree of price sensitivity in the market, at least in terms of consumers actually price shopping. Interestingly, when asked how they sought pricing information, phone was most popular with 61 percent reporting using this method. Respondents also cited in person (46.6 percent), internet (22.2 percent) and mail (11.8 percent) as utilized methods. Also of note is that the group least likely to look was people 65 and older -- just 6 percent of them did. The most likely to price shop were people in households whose income was less than $25,000 year.

As we discuss in part 3 of the "Safeguarding Imaging Margins" study, providing accurate prices upfront when patients request remains critical to effectively collecting the patient obligation portion of imaging revenue. Thus, it may be worth considering centralized resources for providing prices as profiled in this study. These resources include centralized pricing policy offices with dedicated phone lines that ensure that all pricing questions are handled accurately. Alternatively, some institutions provide the prices of imaging exams at their various sites directly on their website.