PHIN calls for better price transparency as it launches comparison tool for patients

The Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) today called on the independent healthcare sector to work together to improve price transparency as it launched a new guide and price comparison tool for consumers.

The move follows publication of fee data for consultants on the PHIN website at the end of last month. PHIN said the new information would help patients compare medical fees before seeking treatment but warned that consultant fees account for just part of the price and that more work is needed to bring about full transparency.

Some hospitals already post package prices on PHIN’s website but the information body wants to see all private hospitals publish their prices so that patients can establish the full cost before embarking on treatment.

An informal secret shopper exercise commissioned by PHIN found it could take several exchanges with hospitals and consultants’ medical secretaries to find out if the fees quoted were all-inclusive.

According to PHIN data, self-pay customers now represent around 25% of patients treated in the private healthcare sector. It hopes its new guide and price comparison tool will help patients make informed choices about which consultants to select and where to have treatment.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has ordered that all consultants must submit their fee data to PHIN for publication. So far, around 4,500 of an estimated 15,000 consultants have begun submitting data.

Although there has been some push-back from consultants, representative bodies such as the Independent Doctors Federation and the Royal Colleges have been supportive of the move. PHIN hopes it can bring the remaining consultants on board as soon as possible, as well as extend coverage to those clinicians working outside of elective care.

PHIN chief executive Matt James said: ‘It has been very difficult for patients to find reliable information to compare fees before seeking treatment. We were asked to fix part of that problem by publishing medical fees, and we’ve taken an important step in publishing this information. Patients can now find the typical fees for more than 4,500 consultants, and it’s great that so many consultants are playing their part in improving price transparency.

‘However, the private healthcare sector must do more to ensure that terms, conditions and price are constructed with the patient in mind. This is understandably very complex, and will take time to work through, but is the right thing to do for patients.

‘Patients should know that they have legal rights to have fees set out in advance, so they can better compare their options before committing to a particular consultant.’

Alongside the price comparison tool, which shows typical fees charged by consultants for initial consultations, treatment, and follow-up consultations for the most common elective procedures, PHIN has produced a guide and video along with a checklist of key things patients should ask when considering treatment options.

Adam Land, senior director of remedies at the CMA, said: ‘Consultants’ fees need to be clear and accessible if people are to make informed choices. That is why the CMA appointed PHIN to collect and publish information on consultants’ pricing. The new information published today will help patients choose the right consultant for their needs.’