healthcare money imageWhen you're shopping for something, sometimes price is the only consideration. However, think about the times when price matters, but you've already determined the only brand or brands you're interested in buying.

Let's say you're buying a car. You've done plenty of research, using the criteria that are important to you. Fuel economy, vehicle safety statistics, passenger/cargo capacity, style, color - your vehicle-value-determining checklist. Only after you've built that list will you start to hone in on price, shopping around to find the dealers that have what you want in your price range.

Value is only fully visible when you know what  you're getting for the price. Even in something as simple as grocery shopping, price isn't always the #1 driver of purchase decisions. Sure, for some things generic Brand X at rock-bottom price is the way to go ... on things like shop towels. However, ask any Coupon Queen what her quest is all about, and she'll tell you that it's about brands, then it's about price. She's not clipping coupons for generics, unless it's a store brand that meets her quality metrics. Price is important. Value is critical.

In the "how much is that?" campaign in healthcare, we're as concerned about quality as we are about price. Luckily, in healthcare there are metrics that far outstrip those in most consumer products. However, many of those metrics have been hard for consumers - patients - to find and use in assessing healthcare value. That's changing with the rising availability of quality metrics like the Hospital Safety Scores from The Leapfrog Group released at the end of November.

The US Department of Health & Human Services's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - that's a mouthful (and a massive amount of information on one site), let's stick with HHS's AHRQ, shall we? - has comprehensive info on healthcare quality and how to use it, and you paid for every byte with your tax dollars.

Here's the challenge: start educating yourself about price AND quality when you're buying healthcare services. Cruise the AHRQ information. Dive into the Hospital Safety Scores if you're slated for a hospitalization. Ask "how much is that?" throughout the process. You might not get answers every time, but the more you ask, the faster the system will shift toward price transparency. It's up to us. Let's roll.