As of January 1st a new price transparency law now requires U.S. hospitals to publish a list of their standard charges on the Internet, something they had not typically done before. Over at Quartz, reporter Anne Quito and visual journalist Amanda Shendruk took a look at the published prices of 115 of the largest hospitals. What they found is that this ostensibly revealing information is going to be of little use to most customers. First, the lists are usually hidden in obscure, difficult to find corners of the hospitals’ websites, and second, the data is rarely human-friendly.
After locating the list, there’s the matter of understanding it. To comply with the law, many hospitals published their entire chargemaster, a list that contains thousands of items—from a cotton ball to an organ transplant—written in terms and codes unintelligible to most consumers. A chargemaster is essentially an internal document that hospitals send insurance companies to negotiate the amount they’re going to receive. The prices listed are typically higher than what most patients actually see on their medical bills, unless they’re uninsured.
As an example of how inscrutable this can be, Quartz published a screen grab from Florida Hospital Orlando’s pricing list. It’s a wonder of illegibility.
Quito asked me to comment on how design might have helped make this information more relevant to consumers, and a few of my quotes are included in the article. There’s no question that more specific guidance in the law on how the information should be presented, alongside some actual consideration for user experience on the part of the hospitals, would have gone a long way to improving the effectiveness of this effort. Design could have helped enormously.
At a higher level though, the healthcare system is so daunting, its overall user experience needs so much more than good design. Quito closes the article with some of my thoughts on this:
‘It’s crazy that we have this enormous healthcare system, and it’s so complex and you’re expected to negotiate it on your own with no help,’ says Vinh.
If you think of the healthcare system as a civic institution not unlike the legal system, the proposition for mere mortals starts to look absurd. Few of us would feel comfortable representing ourselves in courts of law without a lawyer, and yet we’re all expected to make our way through the complexity of healthcare entirely on our own, without an experienced advocate to help us understand our options and ensure our safety, to say nothing of maximizing the value of what we pay for.