How Primary Care Physicians Integrate Price Information into Clinical Decision-Making

J Gen Intern Med. 2017 Jan;32(1):81-87. doi: 10.1007/s11606-016-3805-0. Epub 2016 Aug 25.


Background: Little is known about how primary care physicians (PCPs) in routine outpatient practice use paid price information (i.e., the amount that insurers finally pay providers) in daily clinical practice.

Objective: To describe the experiences of PCPs who have had paid price information on tests and procedures for at least 1 year.

Design: Cross-sectional study using semi-structured interviews and the constant comparative method of qualitative analysis.

Participants: Forty-six PCPs within an accountable care organization.

Intervention: Via the ordering screen of their electronic health record, PCPs were presented with the median paid price for commonly ordered tests and procedures (e.g., blood tests, x-rays, CTs, MRIs).

Approach: We asked PCPs for (a) their "gut reaction" to having paid price information, (b) the situations in which they used price information in clinical decision-making separate from or jointly with patients, (c) their thoughts on who bore the chief responsibility for discussing price information with patients, and (d) suggestions for improving physician-targeted price information interventions.

Key results: Among "gut reactions" that ranged from positive to negative, all PCPs were more interested in having patient-specific price information than paid prices from the practice perspective. PCPs described that when patients' out-of-pocket spending concerns were revealed, price information helped them engage patients in conversations about how to alter treatment plans to make them more affordable. PCPs stated that having price information only slightly altered their test-ordering patterns and that they avoided mentioning prices when advising patients against unnecessary testing. Most PCPs asserted that physicians bear the chief responsibility for discussing prices with patients because of their clinical knowledge and relationships with patients. They wished for help from patients, practices, health plans, and society in order to support price transparency in healthcare.

Conclusions: Physician-targeted price transparency efforts may provide PCPs with the information they need to respond to patients' concerns regarding out-of-pocket affordability rather than that needed to change test-ordering habits.

Keywords: health services research; primary care; technology assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fees and Charges*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians, Primary Care / psychology*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends*
  • Qualitative Research