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On May 6 our Office partnered with Suffolk University Law School’s Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service to host a one-of-a-kind conference to discuss healthcare consumerism. The conference highlighted how price and information transparency can help consumers make better choices when it comes to having medical procedures.

I often compare shopping for a TV with shopping for health care services to illustrate how differently we see our roles as consumers. Most consumers would never purchase a new big-ticket item without knowing the price and quality in advance, yet most of us obtain health care services without even a ballpark guess of what the final cost will be or without knowing anything about the quality of the services we are about to receive. With new price transparency measures taking effect this year, now is the time to trigger an attitude reset to focus health care on the consumer and to help consumers realize their position and power in the marketplace. We planned this conference not merely to begin this conversation, but to bring in industry experts, consumers, and regulators in an effort to create a multilateral dialogue that could help implement real change.

The conference began with a panel of health industry experts discussing how we can best stimulate this attitude adjustment. Martha Bebinger, WBUR’s healthcare reporter, moderated the discussion among experts including Division of Insurance Commissioner Joseph Murphy, Massachusetts Association of Health Plans Chairman James Roosevelt, and the head of Atrius Health, Dr. Gene Lindsey. The discussion was lively and demonstrated that all across the industry increased consumer empowerment has become a priority. Video of the full panel is available here. The panel affirmed the findings of the recently announced Mass Insight poll: consumers are eager for more cost and quality information.

Dr. Leana Wen, co-author of the book When Doctors Don’t Listen, was our keynote speaker. She encouraged all of us to think critically about the services being offered by healthcare providers and to be vigilant about asking questions and demanding answers. Video of her talk is available here.

The last part of the conference had us all putting on our consumer hats and making decisions about hypothetical knee surgery. We were given price and quality information and asked to make our choices between two major teaching hospitals, two small community hospitals, and an orthopedic specialty hospital. Though many people chose the major teaching hospital that they were referred to by their primary care physician, most people chose the other major teaching hospital, which had higher patient satisfaction, a shorter length of stay, and lower cost. It was surprising to see that no one chose either small community hospitals, likely because both had minimal knee surgery experience.

The response from conference attendees has been overwhelmingly positive. If you were unable to attend the conference, you can view the photo album, or view videos of the full panel and the keynote speech. You can also keep track of the ongoing dialogue on Twitter by following the hashtag #empowerHC.

I appreciate the great response to this conference. Check back for information on upcoming conferences and conversations about empowering healthcare consumers.

If you have a question or complaint, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs Consumer Hotline, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at 617-973-8787 or toll-free in MA at 888-283-3757.

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