The Healthcare Transparency Challenge

A recently launched app called WageSpot allows you to see the salaries, positions, and locations of people—breaking the social taboo of openly sharing how much money you’re making. The goal is to allow users to be able to see if they are reaching their full-earning potential and to break down barriers through transparency.

Could a similar use of transparency be helpful to the healthcare industry?

The most often repeated example of transparency in healthcare is that of doctor ratings services. Not only do these services in someway make doctors feel like commodities, but it also seems somewhat inaccurate—how do sites verify the reviewers, and our potential patients really getting an accurate portrayal of what doctors are “good”? Some have even questioned if patients are qualified to review the medical treatments they have received.

The use of data is starting to transform these review systems. New algorithms focus on data such as education, licenses, number of procedures, outcomes of procedures, specialties, and languages spoken to match a patient with the doctor best for him or her, rather than on anonymous patient reviews.

Transparency alone, however, is not enough for patients. Imagine an app like WageSpot called CareSpot, that allowed you to find the cheapest MRI that your insurance covers (of course, depending on your plan, this may or may not matter—another complicating factor). Would patients have the same behavior they would as they do when shopping for a car? Perhaps some would search for the cheapest, while others would associate the highest priced MRI with the best quality.

And how would such transparency affect the care centers themselves? Would practices drop prices to be competitive, raise prices because they recognize they can (especially if patients associate price with care)?

And what important factors would be left out—such as quality of care? Much has been made of patients beginning to look at healthcare as a product. But are there perhaps certain categories of care—such as mental health or complicated surgeries—in which patients are more concerned with outcomes than price?

We need to give patients the information they need to make informed decisions, but we must also question if we are helping them understand the information they look at. Transparency is not truly transparency unless patients can understand the data they are looking at.

Tashfeen Ekram, MD, is a radiologist, self-taught coder, healthcare innovator and Co-Founder of Luma Health. Contact him on Twitter at @tashfeenekramMD.

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