Americans see their doctors more than 1 billion times a year ― and spend nearly $300 billion on physician services ― but they rarely discuss the price of a given service with their physicians in advance of receiving treatment. It gets worse. Although only about 10 percent of health care expenditures are spent on physicians’ services, doctors are the gate keepers to virtually all care that is provided to patients ― including MRI scans, lab tests, hospital admissions and surgeries. Yet doctors rarely provide a list of prices for goods and services they provide or discuss the prices of the procedures they order. Patients don’t bother to shop for medical care, and doctors don’t advertise their prices because nearly 90 percent of patients’ tabs are paid with other people’s money.
However, when patients pay their own medical bills, they act like normal consumers ― comparing prices and looking for value. And when patients act like prudent consumers, doctors who want their patronage must respond by competing on prices, convenience and other amenities.