Price, Quality and Desire in Healthcare

If you’ve had the opportunity to watch some sessions from TEDMED 2012, then you may have seen Dr. Jon Cohen, CMO of Quest Diagnostics, speak during today’s session 8. His entire talk came from a personal experience with his father choosing a surgeon based on the fact that said surgeon provided donuts for his waiting patients. Dr. Cohen explained why consumer-based healthcare is not working, making some comparisons between the different levels of price, quality and desire. Please note that this does not, in any way, try to insult Dr. Cohen’s theory, and I may be the outlier here, but I respectfully disagree with some of the statements made during his TED talk. 

The first level of comparison has to do with price. Dr. Cohen mentions that price is related to value, and things that cost more tend to be better. The big question raised was “Can you shop for a physician based on price?” Yet, in a country where people that have a choice of doctors usually have insurance covering for it, and out of those that are without and willing to pay, few can actually find out what the costs are, I seem to miss where this all connects. The answer, of course, is that price shouldn’t really matter to begin with. As Dr. Cohen astutely put it, patients should shop for the better doctor, and price shouldn’t be used to determine differences on who is better than who. I don’t think I’m the only one when I say that whenever I’ve “shopped around” for a doctor, I looked up their credentials before I even remotely thought about price.

The second level of comparison has to do with quality. Can patients shop for the better, more qualified physician? To this end, I do have to agree with Dr. Cohen that there really isn’t a straightforward way for patients to find providers and get information about their credentials, experience and training right off the bat. Yet, I seem to be an outlier here again. Or maybe my doctor is the outlier. When I researched which doctor to visit, I first reached out to my network. After recommendations were made, Mr. Google made it EXTREMELY easy for me to find the doctor, find the training, look at relevant experience, and finally make contact. And, by the way Dr. Cohen, no….I do not choose a doctor based on whether or not his office is nice, if they have parking, or if the office donuts.

The third level is desire. It’s on this level that we need to make a distinction between persons that need screenings and persons that need treatment. While it may be true that people keep their health savings accounts tucked away for rainy days, when the rainy day cometh, thy patient uses their health savings and spends it on health care. Is it really a question of desire when a patient NEEDS treatment? Not sure if this concept applies in this context at all.

Coming from a consumer’s point of view, I think we are underestimating the power of the patient in making the correct choice when looking for providers. I also think we are underestimating patient’s desire (chuckle) and need for knowledge when they need health care to come to their aid. And here end the rumblings of a graduate student.

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