I’m all for access to quality health care. For Americans, however, it’s not always easy to fork out $5,000 for an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to diagnose tumors, fatty liver disease or inflammation of the spine. Not everyone has the money or coverage available.
But in the internet age, when you can shop online for a deeply discounted watch, compare car prices or find a new husband, should we be looking for the “best deal” on knee or hip replacement surgery?
Would you feel comfortable letting a doctor you’ve never met perform an invasive surgery, just to save money?
That’s exactly what’s happening through Medibid in the United States, a website where doctors can go to auction their medical services. People can evaluate offers from doctors across the country and bid on services. It may sound more like eBay than ER, but…
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While Medibid does not offer quality control when it comes to the doctors who bid for your dollars, the company pushes transparency, value, choice and competition. With insurers, often you only know whether the doctor you’ll be seeing is in-network –
contracted with your insurance company for reimbursement at a negotiated rate – or not. But through Medibid, the customer can review doctors’ profiles, which provide details on where they went to medical school, their experience, how many of the surgeries they’ve done before, and patient reviews.
The onus is on the individual to do the ground work, investigate the professional and make up his mind if the deal is right. For a $25 fee, you can write in your request for surgery and a few details about yourself and then wait for bids in response. If you are an employer with a benefit plan, you can offer the service to your employees so that they can get a cash price, which is often one-half of the insurance company price, Medibid says. This translates to a savings of up to 38 percent on your healthcare costs.
The most common surgeries are knee and hip replacements, rotator cuff repairs and colonoscopies – planned surgeries which traditionally have long wait times and inflated bills.
Some are calling the service a win-win. Perry Hunt told the Today Show that his health insurance wouldn’t pay for a $70,000 hip replacement. Through Medibid, he found Dr. Adam Harris, an orthopedist in San Antonio, who offered him the surgery for $21,000.
“I kept reading review after review; I knew he was going to be my guy,” Hunt told NBC.
Dr. Harris, for one, insists on examining patients in person first before agreeing to take on cases, although he may be the exception. “For the person who is looking for what I have to offer, it’s a good way for us to find each other,” he says. “My goal is to take care of individual patients as if they’re family. I charge a reasonable fee for high-quality service.”
The doctors benefit, too, by getting paid at the time of care. With traditional insurance, the prices are set and it often takes 120 days to get paid.
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With dramatic changes in healthcare forcing people to figure out how they can bear the costs, maybe this makes some sense. Hospital wait times can be impossible. Hospital bills often are incomprehensible and inflated. A 2012 report by the Institute of Medicine Health suggests a third or more of health costs are wasted. Unnecessary services, excessive administrative costs and fraud were main root problems. Also, the system inefficiencies cause needless suffering. By one estimate, roughly 75,000 deaths might have been avoided in 2005 if every state had delivered care at the quality level of the best performing state.
The situation is begging for entrepreneurs to compete for delivering care better, cheaper and faster.
That’s why we’re seeing Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS and other retailers set up onsite clinics. They’re offering convenient, low-cost alternatives to hospitals or doctor’s offices.
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think shopping for a surgeon online is the safest way to go. Surgery is invasive, mistakes can happen, there are always risks. If something goes wrong, wouldn’t you want to be in a hospital where you can get the intervention and care you may need?
People like to use the internet to self-diagnose or go in armed with information to discuss concerns with their doctor. If it’s a serious issue, they want to know what they’re up against and some idea of the costs involved. I see the internet as a valuable resource, but not as a means to a life-altering medical procedure.
I think we should all take a step back from eBay-style surgery and stick with shopping for deals on shoes, instead of knees and hips. Don’t you?
Karen Hawthorne is managing editor at Health eTalk and BelMarraHealth.com. Karen has worked for the National Post, Postmedia News, CBC Radio Vancouver, the Edmonton Journal, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and the Cobourg Daily Star, reporting on health news and lifestyle trends for over 15 years.