How embracing price transparency helped Ohio Surgery Center generate leads: 3 Qs with administrator Suzi Walton

The healthcare industry has various definitions of price transparency, and ASCs often consider the self-pay bundled price — not including insurance — to be the end-all-be-all of transparency, according to Columbus-based Ohio Surgery Center Administrator Suzi Walton.

Celebrating its 20th year, the Ohio Surgery Center has embraced transparent pricing since its establishment. Ms. Walton said she felt there was a need that wasn't being met, as most centers' prices didn't include factors such as the facility and anesthesiology fees.

"We've been manually quoting [patients] for 20 years, so I thought, 'There has to be a better way,'" Ms. Walton told Becker's ASC Review. "I love the concept of transparency, and I wondered how I could make this happen."

Here, Ms. Walton shares the story of why Ohio Surgery Center adopted the BuildMyBod price estimator app developed by California plastic surgeon Jonathan Kaplan, MD, which includes private insurance and fees, to make price transparency more comprehensive.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: Can you tell me about the BuildMyBod app and why Ohio Surgery Center decided to take this approach to price transparency?

Suzi Walton: [Dr. Kaplan] hired someone to develop the [BuildMyBod] app for him for his cosmetic patients. When I saw this platform and how user-friendly it was, I thought it would be able to do what I needed it to do. I wanted to [include] the facility fee, the anesthesia fee and the surgeon [fee]. I wanted patients to select which insurance they have [and] what procedure they're having, leaving their personal information as well as signing off saying they're using it for their own personal use and they're a subscriber of their insurance. That way, it doesn't ruin my contracts. A lot of people have had concerns in our industry of other payers seeing what you're getting paid, and it's going to cause problems. I don't understand that hesitation. When I sit down and negotiate with one of my big payers, they come in with what other payers are paying me; they already have it.

We wanted a way that would give people actual data and not just a bill charge posted on a website where there can be human error [in] interpreting the data properly. I went with [Dr. Kaplan's] product because its scale-able. It adds to the efficiency of my staff so they don't have to quote prices manually, and it helps us provide better customer service.

Q: You've had success with generating leads from this technology. How do you plan to use it to grow your business?

SW: I've gotten leads from this technology that I wasn't expecting. When we're talking with referring physicians about the value of surgery centers, it's a great dialogue to have — to explain to them that we publicize this information upfront [and that] any of [their] patients [who] may need a tonsillectomy, ear tube or sinus surgery can go online from the convenience of their home and figure out what the cost of that surgery is.

Surgery centers always come out ahead when patients are able to shop around. The whole value equation [involves] cost and quality, and we come out on top in both areas every time. We've had very good conversations with referring physicians about how [price transparency] sets us apart from the competition. It was our 20th anniversary last June 2 [2018], and we've been celebrating the entire year by giving back to the community about how to shop for cost and quality. At some point, the public is going to catch on to the consumerism piece of [price transparency], but we're still on the verge of it. It's like life insurance; people don't want to think about it until they're too far down the referral process to change.

Q: Why do you think other surgery centers should follow suit with implementing this kind of technology, as well as price transparency in general?

SW: It's a patient satisfaction thing. In the past, if patients wanted to know the cost of a procedure, they had to call the surgery center, anesthesiologist [and] surgeon, and they were getting the actual bill charge instead of actionable data, which isn't helpful to anybody and was scaring people off because it's over-exaggerated. All those phone calls were creating inefficiencies for our staff. We wanted to give excellent customer service, so we'd be stopping what we were doing every time we got one of those phone calls to answer the same question over and over again. Our price transparency tool automates that process. I can guarantee the people are giving the correct information every time and I was able to re-purpose the staff that were answering questions as an extra part of their job to do other things that can drive the business forward.

Other surgery centers adopting something like this sets them apart, especially if their competition — whether [that's] another surgery center or hospital — isn't embracing price transparency. It's an added value for your customer, no matter how you scale it. I think it's the right thing to do by the patient, and ultimately, that's why we're all here.

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