Why You Should Shop Medical Lab Services on Price, Just Like a Car

In the U.S. we spent approximately $3.5 trillion on healthcare in 2017. This is an astronomical amount of money. While healthcare spending continues to increase, so too does the transfer of costs from the organizations providing healthcare insurance to employees.

As the financial burden shifts more and more each year to you and me, there’s been a noticeable change in how we use medical services. In general, we’ve become more aware of how we spend our healthcare dollars. And that’s a positive development.

The rising costs of receiving healthcare are well known to everyone who has noticed a little something extra during open enrollment this year. Most likely that was a deductible even higher than last year along with higher premiums. The increase is as predictable as the change in seasons.

This predictability, along with the growth and availability of technology, gave rise to the healthcare consumer.
This is the patient who:
  • Shops for the best price for surgeries;
  • Reviews caregivers online;
  • Monitors his or her own health;
  • Prices out prescriptions from multiple sources; and
  • Travels from the U.S. on the health insurer’s dime because it’s cheaper to get prescriptions filled in Mexico.
Today, the healthcare consumer is working to understand a new area: Laboratory services. Lab services such as bloodwork testing are often suggested by healthcare providers to gather data on any number of conditions. It turns out, however, that many patients don’t shop around for lab services based on cost, quality or convenience. In general, the healthcare provider tells a patient which lab provider to use. And that’s where the patient goes. Healthcare consumers, 87 percent of them, typically don’t shop around for lab services today. And 70 percent say they don’t have any intention to do so in the future. Seventy-nine percent of patients go to the lab their physician suggests. This apparent lack of interest may be due to healthcare cost fatigue, disinterest or, more likely, a simple lack of information.

The Power of Customer Service

For many patients, lab services simply aren’t on their radar. Lab services feel more like a commodity with few differences in price or service among those providing the testing: When you get your blood tested, you get your blood tested. If it were only that simple.

Because while there may not be much difference in the types of testing, healthcare consumers report the following are important when it comes to choosing a lab:
  • Cleanliness;
  • Ease of sample collection;
  • Convenient location; and
  • Out-of-pocket costs.
Exceptional customer service is paramount to continued growth in the healthcare industry, just like any other. It seems, however, that healthcare has been slow to catch on. (Perhaps it is because we are a captive audience.)

While healthcare consumers ask for cost information, the healthcare industry buries the details behind multiple bills, different providers and facility charges all for a single, seemingly inclusive service, like a broken arm.

A recent survey on healthcare consumerism found (surprise) that there remain many challenges in the healthcare system, including the way medical bills are presented to customers. Twenty-five percent of those questioned said they had difficulty comprehending medical bills, which brings us right back to the customer experience and customer service. The same report put a simple sounding question to healthcare consumers: “What would make a healthcare company the ‘best’?” Being the “best,” it turns out, means being like technology companies or customer-service-focused retailers. This has very little to do with many healthcare companies.

One thing to keep in mind with tech companies—whether they’re selling software or skis—and retailers—selling fast food or paint—is the customer always knows how much it’s going to cost. Many times even shipping is free!

For a variety of reasons, the healthcare industry as a whole has yet to make this leap. Getting the information has been and continues to be a long, complex process with no simple resolution in sight. While there are solutions that allow physicians to provide treatment costs in advance, adoption is not as fast as it should be.

Lab services, however, are a place where healthcare consumers may be able to get a foothold. Prices should be readily available and easy to acquire and understand because a cholesterol test is a cholesterol test.

So get out there and shop on price, just like you did for your last car.
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