Society in general encourages the public to be savvy consumers, shopping around for the best values. But the healthcare industry is a unique one, the study’s scientists say, where traditional market principles do not apply. Patients—particularly those in pain and in need of swift treatment—are often in a poor position to gauge the appropriateness of their care, instead relying on the advice of medical professionals.
“Price shopping is improbable, if not impossible, because the services are complex, urgently needed, and no definitive diagnosis has yet been made,’’ the researchers wrote.
Moreover, even if patients had the time and expertise to price shop, hospitals charge inconsistent prices for seemingly similar services.
Much of the issue stems from the complex and often arcane practice of medical billings in which patients are not necessarily billed for their actual cost of care.
Insured patients “are shielded from charges, while the underinsured or uninsured see staggeringly high numbers without understanding what the charges mean, let alone if they are appropriate,’’ the authors said.
The researchers analyzed patients hospitalized for appendicitis in 2009. The patients were between the ages of 18 and 59, and were routinely discharged home.