A Randomized Trial of Displaying Paid Price Information on Imaging Study and Procedure Ordering Rates

J Gen Intern Med. 2017 Apr;32(4):434-448. doi: 10.1007/s11606-016-3917-6. Epub 2016 Dec 2.


Background: Prior studies have demonstrated how price transparency lowers the test-ordering rates of trainees in hospitals, and physician-targeted price transparency efforts have been viewed as a promising cost-controlling strategy.

Objective: To examine the effect of displaying paid-price information on test-ordering rates for common imaging studies and procedures within an accountable care organization (ACO).

Design: Block randomized controlled trial for 1 year.

Subjects: A total of 1205 fully licensed clinicians (728 primary care, 477 specialists).

Intervention: Starting January 2014, clinicians in the Control arm received no price display; those in the intervention arms received Single or Paired Internal/External Median Prices in the test-ordering screen of their electronic health record. Internal prices were the amounts paid by insurers for the ACO's services; external paid prices were the amounts paid by insurers for the same services when delivered by unaffiliated providers.

Main measures: Ordering rates (orders per 100 face-to-face encounters with adult patients): overall, designated to be completed internally within the ACO, considered "inappropriate" (e.g., MRI for simple headache), and thought to be "appropriate" (e.g., screening colonoscopy).

Key results: We found no significant difference in overall ordering rates across the Control, Single Median Price, or Paired Internal/External Median Prices study arms. For every 100 encounters, clinicians in the Control arm ordered 15.0 (SD 31.1) tests, those in the Single Median Price arm ordered 15.0 (SD 16.2) tests, and those in the Paired Prices arms ordered 15.7 (SD 20.5) tests (one-way ANOVA p-value 0.88). There was no difference in ordering rates for tests designated to be completed internally or considered to be inappropriate or appropriate.

Conclusions: Displaying paid-price information did not alter how frequently primary care and specialist clinicians ordered imaging studies and procedures within an ACO. Those with a particular interest in removing waste from the health care system may want to consider a variety of contextual factors that can affect physician-targeted price transparency.

Keywords: electronic health record; health services research; randomized trials.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Accountable Care Organizations
  • Adult
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Cost Control
  • Diagnostic Imaging / economics*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Research / methods
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Unnecessary Procedures / economics
  • Unnecessary Procedures / statistics & numerical data