transparency | noun | the quality of being done in an open way without secrets
We live in a world where we’ve come to expect answers to all our questions with a quick Google search. Want to find a nearby walk-in clinic? Wondering what the rash on your arm might be? The Internet offers millions of possible answers in .63 seconds.
Despite the wealth of information, the veracity of information found on the Internet should be routinely questioned, as a friend recently reminded me.
Thanks to a new headshot and a photographer with excellent photo-shopping skills, I now have the option to look 20 years younger than my true age. Upon sharing the photo with a friend, he commented that it reminded him of a few shots he’s seen on online dating sites. Apparently it’s common to post photos that misrepresent one’s true overall appearance. But then again, who doesn’t like an “optimized” version of oneself?
Like most of us, I’ve learned that it’s prudent not to trust everything you find on the Internet. Maybe you’ve made the mistake of making a reservation at a seemingly charming hotel, only to check in and discover that the rooms are a mere 125 square feet. Or perhaps you found a fantastic deal on a new car, but later learned that the great price did not include certain essentials like automatic windows, air conditioning, and wheels.
In healthcare, consumers may struggle not only to discern the accuracy of information, but also to find any relevant information at all. This is especially true when it comes to details on healthcare costs and quality.
The lack of transparency for healthcare costs is well-documented, and pricing often varies greatly for identical services depending on the geographic region, insurance carrier, and health system. Patients rarely know the full cost of care until after receiving a bill – and even then the bills can be quite confusing. And unlike with hotel rooms and cars, higher priced healthcare doesn’t necessarily correlate with higher quality of care, especially when the services are for easily commoditized services such as lab tests and MRIs. Sometimes Yelp, Angie’s List, or similar consumer sites may include provider reviews, but the feedback tends to focus more on waiting times and bedside manner, and lack any sort of comprehensive assessment of clinical outcomes.
Consumers, however, are demanding better access to easily-understood cost and quality health data, especially now that patients are shouldering a larger portion of their own healthcare costs. Providers have traditionally been hesitant to reveal price and quality data, fearing that competitive forces might lead to revenue loses. However, aren’t providers supposed to be encouraging patients to be more engaged in the care process? And doesn’t engagement begin with consumers having a clear understanding of their healthcare choices?
Regardless of provider resistance, a number of new laws are mandating greater transparency. Health IT vendors are also introducing technologies that provide better consumer exposure to both cost and quality data. A .53 second Google search for “HIMSS16 transparency” suggests that transparency will be one of hotter topics at next month’s annual conference, with several educational sessions highlighting the issue and multiple vendors promoting new solutions.
And it’s about time. Online shoppers may be tolerant of a bit of opacity – and optimized photos– when shopping for potential mates, but in healthcare we deserve better. We have an abundance of talented technologists and petabytes of cost and quality data. Let’s get moving on healthcare transparency and ensure more is “done in an open way without secrets.”
Michelle Ronan Noteboom
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