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Consumers Turn To Different Kind Of Health Care Shopping

Dr. Nicole Herbst, a medical fellow at Emory University, was befuddled when patients began walking into the emergency room with abnormal CT scans. The results were not the confusing part - the origin of the scans was. The patients had purchased them using Groupon, NPR reports.

As consumers grapple with the high cost of medical care, they are turning to different kinds of bargain shopping – like searching the online coupon site to find discounted rates on medical tests. According to NPR, Groupon has recently offered deals for heart, lung, and full-body scans, as well as ultrasounds, across Atlanta and in Oklahoma and California.

Consumer dissatisfaction with the cost of health care is no secret. Research from Consumers for Quality Care and Ipsos found that 88 percent of consumers believe that lowering out-of-pocket costs should be a top priority for lawmakers in Washington. Eighty-seven percent agree that hospitals make it difficult for patients to understand the itemized price of their care. Experts are pointing to these frustrations to explain the Groupon phenomenon.

Paul Ketchel is the CEO and founder of MDSave, a company that contracts with providers to sell consumers vouchers for medical tests at discounted rates. Ketchel sees his company’s expansion over the years as an indicator that the health care system is not working for consumers. He draws parallels to innovations that bring consumers cheaper prices in other sectors and the popularity of his company, and now Groupon, in the health care industry.

"All we are really doing is applying the e-commerce concepts and engineering concepts that have been applied to other industries to health care," he argues.

"We are like transacting with Expedia or Kayak," Ketchel says, "while the rest of the health care industry is working with an old-school travel agent."

While the models may provide more discounted and transparent costs, some remain wary of the fix. Dr. Andrew Bierhals, a radiology safety expert, cautions consumers against purchasing and receiving unnecessary scans.

"If you're going to have any type of medical testing done, I would make sure you discuss with your primary care provider or practitioner," he cautions.


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