By Katherine Hempstead
As the fashionistas might say, transparency in health care is having a moment. It made the PricewaterhouseCoopers top 10 list for 2014 industry issues, and there is every reason to expect transparency to be very visible this year and beyond.
Without a doubt, transparency is hot.
Despite this, there is increasing grumbling by observers who say that transparency is complicated and hard to operationalize. We also hear that transparency is “not enough” to constrain costs in our dysfunctional system, especially in the face of provider market power.
The word itself invites skepticism, in that it seems to over-simplify and promise a magical solution, as if daylight will provide health care pricing with a glow of rationality.
As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Transparency can and will provide information about price, quality, and consumer experience that market participants need in order to better understand the health care system and increase its value.
While this information is surely necessary, we have seen many examples of when it is not sufficient. Clearly, transparency is not the only tool that we need.
Here are a few thoughts about transparency issues for 2014.
Transparency tools will hit Main Street.
Increasingly, consumer-facing tools with various kinds information about health care prices are being created, whether it is okcopay or Change Healthcare. These entries join a growing list of transparency tools from carriers or third-party vendors.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Hospital Price Transparency challenge, designed to promote awareness of hospital charge data, had a record number of entrant and the winning submissions are downright inspiring. RWJF also awarded grants for research on the use of price data in health care, including a number of studies of promising transparency tools aimed at consumers and providers.
The field is becoming more crowded, and it is increasingly important to determine the optimal way to reach the consumer with price and quality information.
There will be greater focus on the customer experience.
There is no doubt that the customer experience in health care lags behind the rest of the service sector, and consumers are increasingly demanding responsiveness and convenience in their encounters with the medical profession. The growth of evening and weekend hours, email communications with physicians, and patient portals are all harbingers of a new age where medicine is far more customer friendly.
RWJF’s Open Notes initiative allows patients to share notes with their doctors, while the Foundation’s Flip the Clinic program completely reimagines the doctor patient encounter in the ambulatory care setting.