Mobile Healthcare Tools Empower Consumers

Mobile apps such as online comparison tools help consumers make informed healthcare decisions.

The US healthcare system is evolving rapidly. People are paying more personally for their healthcare and taking more control of decisions regarding the care they receive.

Simply put, it has become increasingly important for consumers to have access to resources and services that help them make informed decisions about the quality and cost of their care, protecting both their health and their pocketbook.

Consumers nationwide are using online resources to comparison-shop for healthcare services, for example, much as they would for airline tickets or electronics. According to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, 14% of respondents report using online resources to comparison-shop for healthcare services. This number is likely to increase, given the popularity of mobile technology coupled with consumers taking a more active role in their healthcare decisions.

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New online and mobile resources are helping people more easily anticipate and manage healthcare expenses, providing consumers with quality and cost information for local care providers. One example is Health4Me, a free mobile app for iPhone and Android devices that is now available to everyone. Health4Me provides cost information for more than 635 medical services, including MRI, knee replacement, and childbirth. The app also enables users to locate nearby healthcare providers, including convenience care, urgent care, and emergency care facilities.

Some insurance carriers offer mobile apps that provide their customers with personalized price estimates based on actual contracted rates with healthcare providers and facilities. These personalized resources can also give users 24/7 access to registered nurses, personal health benefits information and ID cards, and customer service callback service.

Greater price transparency for medical services could help make healthcare more affordable. By providing healthcare prices to consumers, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders could reduce US healthcare spending by more than $100 billion during the next decade, according to a 2014 report by the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.

In addition, online comparison tools can help people select high-quality healthcare providers, according to a new study from UnitedHealthcare.

The study found that users of myHealthcare Cost Estimator, an online and mobile quality and price-comparison service available to all consumers through the Health4Me app, were more likely than non-users to select high-quality healthcare providers across all specialties, including primary care physicians (7% more likely) and orthopedists (9% more likely).

There are also significant price variations for healthcare services and procedures at hospitals and doctors' offices nationwide, yet research has shown that higher-priced care providers do not necessarily deliver higher-quality care or better health outcomes.

Here are a few examples of price ranges for medical services performed within 25 miles of San Francisco:

  • Knee MRI: $252 to $3,887
  • Childbirth: $11,223 to $34,963
  • Hip replacement: $26,760 to $58,370

In this new era of healthcare, transparency and education through technology can help consumers become more engaged in their health. Take a few minutes to download the Health4Me app, or log into your insurance provider's website and learn more about the tools and services that can help you make the best healthcare decisions for you and your family.

These services are putting more relevant information at people's fingertips, helping them make better care decisions regarding treatment options and prices.

The owners of electronic health records aren't necessarily the patients. How much control should they have? Get the new Who Owns Patient Data? issue of InformationWeek Healthcare today.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing