The use of data visualization is helping to portray the great variance in healthcare costs within the U.S. and in comparison to other countries.
Today, consumers want to have full transparency of prices. You can now find cost comparison websites across all sectors, from banking to retail—but healthcare isn’t really one of them. This sector may have benefited or suffered from not being transparent—depending on how you see it.
One reason for this lack of transparency could be that healthcare isn’t really like any other sectors, as it’s fundamentally different in its nature. You don’t just shop for healthcare treatments, or save up for them with pleasure. If you need a treatment, you typically get one immediately. You don’t really have a choice, do you? Not like a consumer in a capitalistic system. This point is also underlined by journalist Stephen Brill, author of the book A Bitter Pill, Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us, who explained his view in a Time magazine article, analyzing why healthcare is so expensive.
Here is the question, independent from the “why” healthcare is so expensive in the US: what are the prices we are talking about? And, what's also important—how do these prices compare across the country? For instance, where are the places that have the biggest differences in price?
“With the growth of consumerism in the sector allowing people to shop their options, more individuals are learning that medical services and procedures have significant variation in costs.”
- From “A Study of Cost Variations for Knee and Hip Replacement Surgeries in the U.S”
There Are Extreme Differences In Prices
Prices differ in the US because it is a free market, a capitalist economy—and it has a capitalist healthcare sector. Now for consumers—who really aren’t just consumers, but suffering patients—transparency is becoming a key principle in helping to make decisions regarding their healthcare needs based on cost and quality considerations.
With the growth of consumerism in the sector allowing people to shop their options, more individuals are learning that medical services and procedures have significant variation in costs—as reported in a new study that appeared last week on the cost variations of knee and hip replacement procedures for the US.
The report—a result of a collaboration between the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Blue Health Intelligence—covers data that was derived from three years of Blue Cross and Blue Shield claims data for knee and hip replacement surgeries for 64 markets across the US. Further analytics can be found in the “The Health of America Report,” published recently.
The focus here is on typical knee and hip replacement procedures, as these procedures became the fastest growing medical treatment category in America.
How expensive is a hip replacement procedure in the US and how do the prices vary?
Hip replacement cost data visualization link: http://goo.gl/aj5e8h
(Source Data: Blue Cross Blue Shield, .Xls data attached)
Regarding locations and cost variances, a place cost-pattern for procedures can vary by as much as 313%, states the "Health of America Report."
Knee replacement cost data visualization link: http://goo.gl/wO3Crl
(Data source: Blue Cross Blue Shield, .Xls data attached)
Find The Best Hospital In Your Area
If you would wanted to compare—across the US—healthcare prices, quality of procedures, number of procedures and outcome (even drilling down to a hospital level), I encourage you to check out a most powerful interactive healthcare visualization. Design and visualization expert Bill Shander, founder of Beehive Media, created the visualization below. Click here to access the interactive graph.
Source: Beehive Media
Shander, who uses the example in an online design course, wanted to answer two specific questions for the users. Number one: What is the lowest price for a procedure. Secondly, where to get the best quality of care? For this he used nationwide healthcare data for different metrics.
In the course, Shander explained how to sort by pricing. Los Angeles, the most expensive place to get a hip replaced, doesn't show the same data the BCBS report stated. You can also search for the places with the most procedures. Numbers of treatments may resemble how good or experienced doctors in a place may be. It's not clear whether the medical community agrees with the fact that more procedures equates to better doctors.
The final understanding Shander wants the viewer to leave with is which hospital is really the best for your location/state. Green circles around hospitals indicate that a provider compares pretty good in terms of price, quality, and quantity of procedures. The value of cost transparency this platform offers to US users is stunning and should be replicated for other regions.
More Profit - More Hip & Knee Replacements Over Last Decade
A study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery that was published last year found that typical knee replacements more than tripled in the US. Comparatively, typical hip replacements apparently doubled between 1993 and 2009, says a study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
According to the HCUP Nationwide Inpatient Sample (2000-2011) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the total number of US knee replacement surgeries increased from 282,350 in 2000 to 645,062 in 2011—which is almost double the number of procedures in a bit more than a decade.
For hip replacement procedures, there were 165,065 operations in 2000 and 306,600 procedures in 2011—again almost double the number of operations per year.
So, what is the solution? Of course, you could settle over to the UK and get free treatment and health services by the British NHS. A post by Jim Edwards on Business Insider explains it really well. Americans' annual healthcare spending accounts for about $8,362 per capita annually. For people in the UK, it is about $3,480, which they pay not directly, but via taxes. To compare the US and its personal healthcare spending with other countries—including how well the US and the UK compare in terms of number of doctors per population—we created a chart (Source: WHO).
Comparing personal healthcare spending with numbers of doctors available per 10,000 people, illustrates that the US, requiring a much higher personal contribution, is not providing many more doctors for its population. In fact it’s the other way around. The UK offers about 3 more doctors per 10,000 of its population.
The US is on the very left with the highest personal healthcare spending, but is not providing many more doctors for the patient population. The Association of American Medical Colleges has predicted that by 2025, the U.S. will be short 130,000 doctors. Critics say that’s not the case.
More Cost Transparency With US Digital Health Startups
In the past few years, digital health startups have tried to help healthcare consumers to have a better overview of the healthcare cost burden via the use of online technology. Companies like Bloom Health—which helps employers control their health care spending and helps employees spend their benefit dollars more wisely, or Simplee—which helps with tracking medical expenses and managing health care costs—helped save patients cash and create more awareness of costs in the US healthcare system.
In addition, startups such as SwiftPayMD—a smart medical billing software designed to help physicians accurately track expenses—support providers and physicians to optimize spending (source: RockHealth).
In an age where consumers are increasingly empowered in their healthcare decisions, they will continue to demand increased transparency to the real data that affects them—and tools like data visualization and digital health applications will help make it possible.