Doctors should know how much lab tests cost

According to a recent study, providing physicians with the cost of lab tests cut costs.

As reported by the WSJ’s Health Blog,

A new study finds that simply making physicians aware of the cost of regular blood tests cut the daily bill for the tests by as much as 27% … At the beginning of the program, the daily cost per non-intensive care patient was $147.73. Over the 11 weeks of the study, that dipped as low as $108.11, in the eighth week.

It’s important to note that there was no pressure on doctors not to order expensive tests. Only the price of the test was provided.

Often, physicians have no idea how much tests cost. The opaqueness is in part due to a multitude of insurers and facilities charging different prices.

But we live in the year 2011 folks. It should not be difficult, especially with electronic medical records, to bring up the price of a test based on the patient’s insurance and preferred laboratory facility.

This is a problem on the hospital side of patient care as well, and was recently addressed in a piece asking whether hospitalists should be better informed of the price of the tests they are ordering.

When talking cost control in health care, we’re at a political standstill debating contentious issues like end of life care and Medicare funding.

Instead, we’d be better off with ideas like providing doctors with better price transparency. That’s lower hanging fruit.

Kevin Pho is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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