A state-run database that compares average prices and patient satisfaction levels for dozens of procedures and tests performed at Maine health care facilities has been updated to give consumers more information.

The information that’s now available at CompareMaine.org helps Mainers become better consumers of health care in a state where the total cost of a common procedure such as a colonoscopy can range from $850 to more than $4,000.

Thursday’s changes represent the fourth major update to the website since it was launched in the fall of 2015, said Karynlee Harrington, executive director of the Maine Health Data Organization and Maine Quality Forum. Among the updates are new indicators of the average quality of care, and updated pricing through the end of 2016.

“It’s a work in progress – it’s going to get better with each release,” Harrington said. “We’re going to make updates twice a year.”

As of Thursday, the site allows Mainers to compare prices for about 200 common medical procedures at roughly 175 health care facilities throughout the state. It is the product of over 1 billion health care records collected by Maine Health Data as allowed by state statute.

All of the average prices are based on records of patients with commercial insurance, including Aetna, Cigna, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Maine Community Health Options. It does not include data for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Data for each procedure can be sorted by insurance provider, so users of the site can see how much each provider was charged on average by a particular medical facility for a particular procedure.

Harrington said the online database is populated with common, non-emergency procedures that can be scheduled in advance. It does not compare average prices for treatment of, say, cardiac arrest, because patients suffering from a heart attack don’t have time to shop for the least-expensive treatment.

COST OF PROCEDURES VARY WIDELY

New to Thursday’s 4.0 update is the ability to see a breakdown of costs between the health care facility and the medical professionals that perform the test or procedure. The prices shown on CompareMaine represent the average total charge for each procedure, including the amount paid by both patient and insurance provider. It does not list patients’ average out-of-pocket costs, but that information may be added in a future update, Harrington said.

According to CompareMaine, prices for common medical procedures in Maine vary widely from one provider to another.

For example, it says Maine Centers for Healthcare in Westbrook, a specialty practice of six physicians, charges an average of $850 for a colonoscopy without biopsy, the least expensive average price in the state. Meanwhile, Charles A. Dean Memorial Hospital in Greenville and Mayo Regional Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft each charge an average of more than $4,000 for the same procedure, the most expensive average price in the state. The state average for that type of colonoscopy is $1,712, according to the website.

The total average cost of a gallbladder removal in Maine ranges from a low of $10,257 at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport to a high of $20,504 at The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle, according to CompareMaine. The average cost statewide for the procedure is $14,562, it says.

Harrington said that, unlike most types of commerce, consumers of health care rarely are given the opportunity to compare prices before undergoing a medical procedure or test. Hospitals often are reluctant to provide cost estimates in advance to their patients because complications during a procedure can dramatically affect the final bill, she said.

PATIENTS GIVE EXPERIENCE RATINGS

The reasons why prices can vary so much from one health care provider to another are complicated, Harrington said. They can include things like the mix of public and private payers among patients, different cost structures and other market factors.

“This is one of the reasons why I think transparency sites like this are so important,” she said.

In addition to average price, CompareMaine also provides three indicators of quality for each procedure at each facility: patient experience, preventing serious complications and preventing health care-associated infections. All ratings range from one (the worst) to five (the best).

Patient experience ratings are provided by patients and indicate how satisfied they were overall with the quality of their care. Ratings for preventing serious complications and health care-associated infections are based on data provided by the health care institutions themselves.

Harrington said the quality ratings show that the most expensive medical facilities in Maine do not necessarily offer the best patient experience.

“Higher cost in health care does not equate to higher quality,” she said.

Harrington said many of the updates to CompareMaine are based on requests from consumers. The website includes an online survey that anyone can fill out to influence future updates, she said.

For example, as a result of customer requests, site updates in 2018 will include the addition of price comparisons for echocardiograms and chiropractic services, Harrington said.

“We’ve also been asked to add cataract surgery,” she said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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