We have been in this space for five years now, researching price transparency, setting up systems to induce it, talking to doctors, representing patients, making key partnerships, and waiting for the slow tide of change. Recent developments, like Time Magazine’s article (see the Author’s video below) and the new Price Transparency Law just passed in Arizona are indicative that the time is now for medical price transparency. We can tell from our experience too.
One of the things we do constantly is talk to doctor’s offices and try to get them to list their prices online. Back in the winter of 2009-2010, I personally knocked on over 2,500 physician office doors in New York City to try to get them to sign up for a crazy idea I called FairCare. I walked over 500 miles, spent four months, gave lots of small bribes of Starbucks cards, hosted about a dozen lunches, and spent a great deal of money. I also gathered great material for a book my working title for is “Erin Brokovich Does Medical Marketing.” It is far more difficult for a bald, pudgy middle-aged dude selling price transparency to get in to see the doctor than a handsome young man or woman with free drugs. It’s okay, I’m not bitter, and eventually, miraculously, I got 100 doctors or office managers to say yes to a free listing. Taking this as encouragement (although in retrospect, I should not have), I hired and inspired my friends Jacek Zagorski, Jeremey Senn, Adam Whittaker, Mike Schwartz, and Mike Pence to build the FairCareMD site. It launched in June of 2010 and we waited for the world to notice. You see, we had convinced ourselves that all we needed to do was build the better mousetrap and that the world would say, “Gee Whiz! Let’s get that!” Well, we were wrong and we needed to keep selling the idea to make it grow – both to Doctors AND Patients.
Knowing that the door-to-door sales method was far too expensive, we next tried email and fax to spread the word but this was pretty unsuccessful and mostly just annoyed people. Meanwhile, since day 1 we had always allowed people to request a price and we would find them a few fairly priced places to go. This was designed to be a truly valuable free service/ soft sales tactic. We would call medical offices with a patient request for specific services for a fair price and see if they would do it. A typical request from a patient would say something like “I want a Chest CT Scan for $250″ or “I want colonoscopies for my wife and I for less than $3,200 apiece” and we would call to see if we could fill them. A side benefit is that this process also introduced a medical office to FairCareMD and potentially would lead to new listings. If we could find a fairly priced office, it worked well and occasionally one good connection would lead to a new listing… but first we had to find the fairly priced office.
Here is how that would go back in 2010:
Colonoscopies: Our then Chief Patient Advocate Sunnie Southern called every endoscopy center in Montana to no avail. After speaking with the client, she learned that they had a daughter in Boston, so they flew to Boston, paid $1600 total for a 75% savings, and got to visit their girl. Happy ending, but three days of work to get that and no signups. Not economical.
CT Scan: Our Chief Marketing Officer, Simon Sikorski, MD called 17 centers for a CT Scan and found 2 reasonable prices in the $350 range. Total time, about 4 hours and no signups. Still not very economical.
So after making thousands of calls, in 2012 we gave up on phone-based sales of listings and made the site free for doctors to sign up. This increased signups and cost nothing. Meanwhile, Sunnie, Simon and I went on to do other really cool things like Innov8forhealth, Empowered Doctors, and MedStartr.com, leaving FairCareMD up as an automated awesome price negotiating system that still helps thousands of people every month. FairCareMD is currently only supported by advertising and my great friend and co-founder, Jacek Zagorski who is donating a few virtual machines for our system. Jeremy Senn and Mike Pence still throw a few programming hours in per month, but mostly the site is on autopilot, and this actually works for the doctors who are in the system or who sign themselves up. Traffic goes up every month and we help patients all the time.
So we still get requests like the one above, but we have found the reactions of Medical Offices have changed significantly. We got two this week so far, one from a blogger who talked about it here. But here is the thing: We filled her request with one call. We are waiting for the doctor to decide if he wants his free listing, but I am pretty sure he will. It’s a no-brainer to doctors who are fairly-priced already.
This represents a serious change. I don’t know if it was the Time Magazine cover story, the continued erosion of insurance payments for Doctors, the fact that more of us than ever are paying out of pocket for care, or the new legislation that requires doctors to publish their prices online, but we believe the Time is Now and it is getting very interesting in this space. So make a request if you need care for a fair price or see if we already have a fairly priced doctor in your area. If you have time and want to learn our methods, we are looking for sales people again, so call (954) 324 7227 and let’s talk if you are passionate about this idea.
Thanks to all who have contributed, stuck with us, and are reading this post. It has been a long haul, but I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.