The Evolution of Health Care Cost Transparency

In my day-to-day work, at our annual client summit, on regular client calls and at industry events, I consistently hear about the issues health plan executives are facing.  It’s probably not surprising that one of the challenges that comes up, again and again, is how to engage members, especially given the nature of HealthSparq’s work. Our user-focused tools help people make smarter health care choices, but how to get members to use the tools is an ongoing effort.

We dive into this topic a lot, and I thought I’d take a moment to share a few of my insights.

Engaging Members Requires Making the Complex Simple

The industry overall continues to be challenged by member engagement. Simply getting people to register for access to a core online member portal remains difficult. There are incredible resources available to assist members with nearly every facet of their health care journey, but they are underutilized.

Members are sometimes unaware of the health care options and resources they have available. When they do engage, they are often frustrated by the complexity. They have more financial exposure, networks and products are getting harder to navigate, and time is a precious commodity.

It’s not enough to communicate frequently with members with about the digital tools they have available or to create simple, easy to understand educational resources about health plan coverage (although those are critical first steps!). We all have to work together to address a larger issue in health care: the fact that no one thinks about health care until there is an urgent need. How do we get individuals to take ownership of their health care to better receive these messages about the tools and resources they have access to, before they need them?

The Evolution of Transparency and Engagement in Health Care

One of my colleagues often says, “who wakes up in the morning and decides to go shopping for health care?” The answer: no one.

As insiders, we all know there is price variation in the market, but that awareness is still very limited in the United States (although initiatives like those from Kaiser Health News & NPR on medical bills may help speed-up public awareness). The next step for those of us in the health care industry is to discover how to be relevant the moment someone needs health care information and how to communicate the right message at the right time in a way that will drive a different decision. It’s an incredibly difficult challenge.

As an industry, we have to start thinking about transparency in a different way and we have to broaden the definition.

As an industry, we have to start thinking about transparency in a different way and we have to broaden the definition. To become more relevant with the information we’re offering, we have to think outside of the traditional areas of communication about all the areas that we can add value, and save money, for patients. There is more opportunity to drive cost savings outside of the traditional procedure comparison. We need to deliver the value in different ways. It is still absolutely necessary to be able to compare costs for carpal tunnel surgery at different facilities. But there’s also opportunity in helping members realize urgent care is cheaper than the emergency room. And that telehealth is a cheaper alternative for many common needs. It all starts with a person and a problem. If we can better understand the need a specific member has, and if we can understand what resources they have available, we can design experiences that guide members to lower cost alternatives, which is what we at HealthSparq are working on today.

At the end of each day, these conversations keep me thinking about our core mission at HealthSparq. Helping people make smarter health care decisions. We’ve been very focused on presenting data that allows members to evaluate alternatives based on cost, quality, experience, etc.  We’re also supporting people’s choices with guidance. We have the foundation to enable more tailored experiences, guide people to options and surface choices that are unique to their benefits and needs. I’m personally excited to see where this next evolution takes us.

Interested in chatting more about how we are seeing the path forward in health care transparency and learn how others are approaching the challenge? Get in touch!