New Research: What Do Consumers Really Want From Price Transparency Tools


AcademyHealth’s Megan Collado on what consumers say they want/need from transparency tools.

Megan Collado

4 min read

In 2013, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in collaboration with AcademyHealth, a leading national organization serving the fields of health services and policy research, funded six research studies examining the use and impact of price data in healthcare. The goal was to generate rigorous and generalizable evidence to inform policymakers and other stakeholders and to accelerate the pace of efforts to use price information effectively.

The grantees recently presented findings from their studies at a meeting of policymakers, researchers, and other experts actively engaged in developing and using healthcare price information. The various grantee projects generated important information about how consumers are seeking healthcare price information, how consumers use (or do not use) available price transparency tools, how physicians view their role in discussing costs with patients, and how market consolidation affects the price of healthcare. Here, Megan Collado of AcademyHealth provides a summary of the findings, along with particular implications for organizations that serve vulnerable populations.

Oliver Wyman Health: Can you provide a brief summary of the grantees’ findings? What was most surprising to you?

Megan Collado: Notably, the grantees found that there is growing consumer interest in and demand for price information, with more than half of Americans reporting trying to find information about healthcare prices before seeking care. Yet, many consumers do not use the price comparison tools that are available to them (often provided by their insurer or employer). And while incorporating cost of care into physician-patient treatment discussions may seem like an intuitive next step, the current RWJF study found no overall change in test ordering rates when pricing information was displayed on physicians’ ordering screens at the point of care.

I think the finding that was most surprising to me was how few consumers are using the price transparency tools that are available to them. Yet, when I take a step back and think about my own experience seeking care, I find myself turning to the doctor’s office or calling the insurance company, rather than seeking out price comparison tools online. Consumers may not know these online tools exist; or, if they are aware of them, they may not view these tools as trustworthy sources.

“We haven’t built tools that deliver the right information, in the right format, at the right time.”

OWH: Is there a disconnect between the price tools and information that the market is providing and the price information consumers say they want/need?

MC: When it comes to consumers and price transparency tools, the question seems to be if you build it, will they come? So far, the answer seems to be “not yet.” I think this suggests that we haven’t built tools that deliver the right information, in the right format, at the right time. During our recent invitational meeting, participants noted that more important than tool development is understanding what quality and price information consumers value when they are able to choose among care alternatives. Not all care is “shoppable,” so understanding both when consumers can shop and what information they need and want to support their decision making is critical.

OWH; Oliver Wyman recently conducted research into the challenges stakeholders face in delivering effective health information to vulnerable consumers. When it comes to providing price information to vulnerable consumers, what do you think is the greatest barrier?

MC; We’ve also found this to be an important topic to explore. At the invitational meeting, participants identified a need for greater attention to the challenges facing low-income and other vulnerable consumers who have neither market power nor the resources to use many of the currently available price transparency tools; yet, the price of care is often a particularly salient concern for these consumers. Questions around health literacy and identifying trusted sources are paramount to getting vulnerable individuals the price information they want and need. An online tool may not be accessible or practical for a vulnerable individual who is balancing not just the cost of their healthcare but many other competing demands on their time and limited resources. I think an important next step in providing price information to vulnerable consumers is identifying their trusted sources for healthcare information and developing strategies to arm those sources with accurate and valuable information.

For more information about Oliver Wyman’s research into the barriers to providing health information to vulnerable consumers, read the Right Place, Right Time report.

  • Megan Collado