The Healthcare Transparency Challenge

A recently launched app called WageSpot allows you to visualize salaries and positions over a map. It’s yet another tool that is 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?

We need to give patients the information they need to make informed decisions, while also providing them the validation and personalization necessary to sort through the data.

Using Transparency in Healthcare

The most frequently cited example of transparency in healthcare is online ratings of doctors and practices. This is a great first step along the healthcare transparency continuum. Patients can share information with one another online about quality of care, convenience, cultural competency, cost, and other key elements of the patient experience. Providers, rewarded for these elements of the care they deliver with 5-star reviews, benefit from increased patient demand. 

But many providers and healthcare leaders are questioning just how powerful these reviews can be when it comes to truly rewarding or penalizing providers based on true quality of care. For example, how do sites verify the reviewers, and are potential patients really getting an accurate portrayal of what doctors are “good”? 

The use of data is starting to transform these review systems. New algorithms focus on data such as provider education, licenses, number of procedures performed, measurable outcomes of procedures, specialties, and languages spoken to match a patient with the doctor best for him or her. Integrating data with patient reviews helps raise the bar on transparency by helping to validate information posted and helping patients sort through lengthy and often irrelevant posts and reviews. 

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Transparency alone, however, is not enough for patients. Imagine an app like WageSpot that allowed you to find the cheapest MRI that your insurance covers (of course, depending on your insurance plan, this may or may not matter—another complicating factor). Would patients exhibit 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 provider organizations themselves? Would practices drop prices to be competitive, potentially threatening quality? Or would they raise prices because they recognize they can (especially if patients associate price with care)?

And what important factors would be left out—such as arguably the most important factor in medicine, the 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 and should be more concerned with outcomes than price?

We need to give patients the information they need to make informed decisions, but we must also provide the validation, context, and personalization necessary to help them sort through the data and make a solid decision. 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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