BOSTON, April 5 (UPI) -- The high cost of healthcare and wide variation in price between providers has more patients shopping for the lowest cost, with millennial adults putting the most time into finding the most affordable services, according to a new study.
Colonoscopies, mammograms and childbirth services top the list of most shopped-for healthcare services, Harvard University researchers report in the study, published in the journal Health Affairs.
As people become more interested in reducing costs by finding equivalent services at a better price, the insurance company Aetna introduced the "Member Payment Estimator" in 2011 to help its customers in the search for higher value.
"Raising consumer awareness about absolute and relative prices of health care services is an important piece of the puzzle for increasing value in our system," Dr. Meredith Rosenthal, a professor of health economics and policy, said in a press release. "While the tools for giving consumers meaningful price information have become quite sophisticated, increasing engagement of more patients in these efforts remains a work in progress."
For the study, researchers found 332,255, or 3.5 percent, of Aetna's customers used the tool between 2011 and 2012, looking most often for shoppable, preventive or elective services, from mamograms to knee replacements.
Most users of the tool were between the ages of 19 and 34, were healthier, and had higher annual deductible spending, defined as $1,250 per year. The top five services people searched for were colonscopy, mammogram, vaginal delivery, physician office consult on the request of another physician and MRI of a lower extremity joint without dye.
While many companies and the government are exploring ways to help consumers find the best value for their healthcare dollars, researchers say more must be done and better marketing of the services needs to happen in order to increase awareness.
"Previous studies have not identified the medical services for which individuals are most interested in getting prices, or the characteristics of people who use transparency tools," said Dr. Anna Sinaiko, a research scientist at Harvard. "This research gives the first detailed look at patterns of use of a sophisticated price transparency tool by individuals."