Colonoscopies, mammograms, and childbirth services are the most searched-for medical services when it comes to cost information—and millennials with higher annual deductible spending are the most frequent comparison shoppers—according to an analysis of a large national health insurance plan database by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The study appears in the April issue of Health Affairs.
Other top searched-for services in the study included MRIs, vasectomies, physician office visits, and other non-emergency services.
“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. This research gives the first detailed look at patterns of use of a sophisticated price transparency tool by individuals,” said Anna Sinaiko, research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management.
Given the wide variation in costs for health care services among different hospitals and different doctors, the researchers wanted to know which people with access to a price transparency tool for comparing the costs of medical services would use it—and how. They looked at data from adults ages 19-64 who had health insurance with Aetna, a major national insurer, to evaluate how patients used the tool, called the “Member Payment Estimator,” in 2011-12.
The researchers found that 332,255 enrollees (about 3% of those who had access) used the tool. Most of the health care price information people sought was about “shoppable services,” such as preventive screenings or outpatient procedures like knee replacements, tonsillectomies, or hernia repair.