Health Watch: Surgery Cost Transparency

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When you go to the hardware store to buy a lawnmower, you've probably done research on cost, features, ease of use and more. When you go into surgery, you most likely have none of that information and none of those choices. (KFSN)

When you go to the hardware store to buy a lawnmower, you've probably done research on cost, features, ease of use and more. When you go into surgery, you most likely have none of that information and none of those choices. So a surgeon in Utah gave appendectomy patients and their families information, control and changed what was happening in the OR.

When Maria Isom was 16, she was rushed to the hospital with appendicitis.

Maria told Ivanhoe, "It was pretty scary because it was my first time ever having surgery, so I was a little freaked out."

Maria's mom, Nancy, wasn't. Doctors gave her choices and information, including costs.

Nancy said, "I thought it was great because we'd been through some financial problems and so giving us a choice of an option that might be a little less expensive was very beneficial to us."

For example: less expensive "open" surgery instruments can be reused. A laparoscopy requires expensive instruments and technology, and disposable equipment. Materials for open procedures cost about $200. Laparoscopic: $3,000. The other difference: laparoscopic scars are smaller. Surgery outcomes are the same.

Eric Scaife, MD, Plastic Surgeon at Primary Children's Hospital found that two-thirds of informed parents chose open surgery. Surprisingly, 20 percent of parents who weren't told about the cost still picked the open option.

Dr. Scaife told Ivanhoe, "It was all sorts of interesting things like 'my brother has this, my dad has this scar and I want to have this scar.' you know, 'open operations are cool.'"

The study changed things for Dr. Scaife, too.

"The year before we did the study, I did zero open appendectomies. And after we did the study, almost half of the operations I did were open," Dr. Scaife explained.

And Dr. Sciafe says parents overwhelmingly liked being involved in the decision.

Dr. Scaife's experiment with medical cost transparency is over, but he believes it could be a powerful tool in driving down health care costs.
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