Less than 20% of websites provide local price estimates relevant to nonemergency medical interventions, according to data published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The finding suggests that websites with transparent prices have not optimized their position in search results, or that insurers do not have incentive to release negotiated prices.

Researchers from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, assessed the availability of price information for 4 nonemergency medical interventions in 8 cities across the United States, using online search engines. Medical interventions included cholesterol panels, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain without contrast, hip replacement, and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.

A total of 1726 websites were included in the results, categorized as price transparency sites, single physician or clinic sites, quality-only sites, generic relevant information, or unrelated sites. The researchers determined whether relevant pricing was listed for each website, and recorded the first available price or price range.

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The researchers found that 21.9% of the websites were price transparency sites that were relevant to the intervention in the search. In addition, 28.4% were linked to single healthcare providers or clinics, 4.7% provided generic information, and 17.4% provided unrelated information.

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The results showed that only 17% of the websites provided geographically relevant price estimates. The prices that were listed on the sites varied widely within interventions, and most websites did not specify whether the price was an out-of-pocket cost.

The investigators note that there is substantial room for improvement in providing customers with access to these prices online. “Given the increasing number of Americans facing high out-of-pocket health care expenses, we need to promote policies that make it easier for them to determine the price of their medical care in time to inform their health care choices,” they concluded.


Kratka A, Wong CA, Herrmann R, et al. Finding health care prices online—how difficult is it to be an informed healthcare consumer? [published online December 4, 2017]. JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.6841