Medical Price Matters … It Pratters

February 12, 2015
Pratter

Forlizzi's Startup Allows Consumers to Compare Medical Costs

When it's time to buy a new appliance, like a stove, few consumers just rush headlong into the purchase. They check multiple retailers' websites, possibly read reviews in consumer-centered magazines, talk to friends and family members about their recent purchases and if they're satisfied with the price and quality. Finally, after days or months, they may even visit multiple stores before deciding on their new appliance.

If we do all that for something that goes into our kitchens, why don't we do the same for medical procedures and tests — especially in an era where more and more people are expected to pay higher deductibles or a larger percentage of the cost for their healthcare? It's simple: there's no easy way to find the actual cost for a medical procedure.

Until now.

Launched this past fall, Pratter is website where consumers can comparison shop for outpatient medical procedures. The company, founded by HCII Professor Jodi Forlizzi (A'97, CS'07) with local physicians Bill Hennessey and Rich Kozakiewicz, aims to create medical cost transparency throughout the U.S. by providing and monitoring medical costs for outpatient medical care — including imaging studies, blood work, and elective medical procedures — before the time of purchase.

"Our goal with the changing healthcare policy is to make these prices transparent," Forlizzi said. Consumers can visit the website, choose their procedure and enter their zip code and a mileage range from that location. The site returns a list of results that patients can use to comparison shop for that procedure.

While patients may think the cost of outpatient procedures is set and doesn't change from provider to provider, the opposite is true. According to Hennessey, an MRI in California could range from $500 to $12,000. Prices can even vary within the same health system, and since patients are footing more of the bill, they need access to these prices to make informed decisions.

Yet gathering that information isn't without its challenges. Some states mandate that providers make their actual prices public, and phone calls to CEOs or hospital administrators have resulted in pricing for other areas. But in the start-up's own backyard, providers like the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Allegheny Health Network have resisted requests for information. Pratter is working on that, and hopes to crowdsource pricing information from patients. The company also encourages healthcare institutions to submit information via Pratter's portal.

In the meantime, they hope to keep working toward a world where we can research our healthcare spending as well as — if not better than — we would something like an appliance.

Learn more about Pratter at www.pratter.us.