Shopping For Health Care

Tonight, Wyatt Andrews reports on a new frontier in medicine -- one that could change the way many of us are treated. And it's as close as your keyboard. -- Ed.

(CBS)
We are calling our series of reports this week "Prescription for Savings," but tonight's story really features the gathering power of the internet; in this case, how the internet may drive down the cost of health care.

We watched as a Richmond man, Gary Garcia shopped online -- no exaggeration -- for heart surgery.

Think about it. Isn't it just a shade crazy how most of us will drive several miles to shave two cents off gas prices, but when the hospital says your knee surgery costs $17,000, we say OK; we don't even question it?

We tend not to question it for two reasons 1) we don't want to cheap out on health care, especially when we're sick enough to need a highly skilled, knife wielding surgeon and 2) we don't have enough market/price information to compare the costs of surgery. Hospitals don't post a price list like McDonald's. The internet is rapidly changing this last part.

Gary Garcia shops for his heart surgery on a website called healthgrades.com, where for a fee he learns the best hospitals in the Richmond area and a regional average price for his procedure. He can also (we didn't see him do this) look up his surgeon to check for quality ratings or court judgements. Healthgrades.com is just the beginning. On the radio in the DC market, Aetna health plans are advertising newly available cost information. Florida has a state run website where you can comparision shop for prescriptions!

Some health care economists predict that as more people like Gary do comparison shopping for medical procedures, it's a matter of time before the explosion of cost information leads to market competition, which can only drive down prices. There are naysayers out there---most of them in the hospital industry, who doubt that consumers will ever warm to the idea of bargain basement surgery, but watch Gary mouse click his way into this frontier and tell me you don't see the future.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.

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