Health care can be one of the largest expense areas of our lives, but usually we don’t get to financially plan for it. When shopping for a car, house, apartment (or in my case, the perfect pair of boots) we can browse the Internet for hours, leave options in multiple shopping carts, read reviews, and compare prices. But when it comes to surgery, we often don’t shop around at all, and get stuck with surprisingly large bills later.
According to a recent report by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 3 Americans report difficulty affording their medical bills,even when most of those surveyed have health insurance.
Welcome to the era of patient empowerment and price transparency. Hospitals are increasingly competing for patients, and as of November 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began to financially penalize hospitals for low patient satisfaction survey scores.
(Imagine if the government gave a Yelp review the power to directly impact a restaurant’s bottom line.)
In an interesting update for data nerds and ultimate savvy shoppers, the personal finance data website NerdWallet has built a user-friendly Best Hospitals interface to sort and sift through publicly available hospital and health care data. The tool recently won recognition from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Hospital Price Transparency Challenge, which rewarded tools that help consumers make better decisions through increased transparency.
Combining multiple data pools, NerdWallet Health built this list of the “Top 10 Most Affordable Hospitals in Massachusetts.”
1. Winchester Hospital (Winchester, Mass.)
2. Morton Hospital (Taunton, Mass.)
3. Good Samaritan Medical Center (Brockton, Mass.)
4. Norwood Hospital (Norwood, Mass.)
5. Falmouth Hospital (Falmouth, Mass.)
6. Lahey Hospital and Medical Center (Burlington, Mass.)
7. Beverly Hospital (Beverly, Mass.)
8. Mount Auburn Hospital (Cambridge, Mass.)
9. Cape Cod Hospital (Hyannis, Mass.)
10. South Shore Hospital (South Weymouth, Mass.)
NerdWallet used three methodologies to determine their rankings:
The Best Hospitals tool pulls price data from the federal databasethat reflects the amount CMS was billed to treat Medicare patients for those procedures.
For this criteria, NerdWallet Health analyzed common procedures that were the cheapest at those hospitals.
3. Patient satisfaction:
Patient satisfaction surveys, known as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAPHS), are a federally standardized survey system that measures patients’ perspectives of their hospital experiences. (These survey scores are publicly reported on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website, HospitalCompare.) The scores on NerdWallet reflect reflect the percentage of patients from HCAPHS surveys that would definitely recommend the hospital, said Napala Pratini, health analyst at NerdWallet.
If you select one of the hospitals, it will go into a more detailed page where you can see breakdown of patient ratings.
4. Hospital characteristics:
NerdWallet used a mixture of the information available from hospital websites as well as the US News & World Report’s Best Hospitals list to flesh out this category.
Despite the world-renown reputation for Boston-area hospitals that regularly dominate the US News Best Hospitals list, many of those names were left off the list.
“There are quite a few hospitals in Boston, but only Mount Auburn made it onto this list,” said Pratini. “I don’t know if I would say that’s surprising, but it’s possibly a call to action for hospitals to start to think more about pricing for patients.”
Research published in the June 2013 of the Journal of the American Medical Association by the University of Michigan Health System determined that the state websites originally intended for this use weren’t effective in providing this information to patients. Sometimes the prices were misrepresentative of the cost eventually billed to the patients.
The Michigan researchers also determined that the majority of the state sites lacked prices for outpatient care, such as lab tests and screenings that are actually easier to shop around for, compared to an inpatient procedure such as having your appendix removed. The quality of the services was also rarely included alongside the prices.
“The federal website Hospital Compare has a similar functionality, but we’ve created a unique user experience that’s a side-by-side comparison of the hospitals you select,” said Pratini. “I believe the national average of patient satisfaction is somewhere in the low 70s. Patient satisfaction scores are pretty encouraging for Massachusetts, but there are definitely a few hospitals that could use improvement.”
How likely are you to comparison shop for a hospital? Do you think increased price transparency will affect hospital prices?Chelsea Rice is a health producer for Boston.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaRice.