As Alan Grunberg neared 50, he knew he was going to need a colonoscopy, so the Chicago-based
Realtor began shopping around to try and find the best place to get the procedure
"I couldn't get anybody to give me information on how much it was going to cost,"
he says, adding that his insurance wouldn't cover the procedure.
Grunberg eventually found PriceDoc.com and
received multiple quotes. "The price was outstanding," he says. "I jumped on it."
PriceDoc is one of several sites that give consumers the ability to shop for procedures
ranging from a colonoscopy to teeth whitening. In some cases, the sites allow consumers
to negotiate with providers.
Steven Findlay, health analyst for Consumers Union, says sites listing prices for
procedures can be helpful, but consumers shouldn't settle for the first price offered.
Unlike traditional retailers, health providers don't usually advertise sales, he says.
Patrick Bradley, PriceDoc's co-founder, says his goal is to help consumers find a
low price for services their insurers won't cover. Patients search by ZIP code for
a list of doctors and their prices.
Some of the doctors listed on the site prefer to negotiate and include the "make me
an offer" button on their profile, while others just list their lowest price, Bradley
"We've created a free, market-based competitive field if you're paying with cash,"
One drawback is that for some locations and procedures, the choices are limited. When
Grunberg tried to use PriceDoc again to search for a dermatologist, he couldn't find
any providers in his area. "I'm not going to travel 500 miles to have something done
unless I need to do it," he says.
Bradley says most of the consumers using his site are looking for dental, vision,
cosmetic and dermatology procedures. Many have individual insurance policies, which
typically have high deductibles, or are paying for care out of a health savings account.
Mona Lori, founder of OutOfPocket.com ,
says her customers are primarily interested in prices for dental and vision procedures.
Lori created the site, which offers a price-based directory of health care services,
in 2007 after unsuccessfully trying to get providers to give her prices for various
Findlay says providers are gradually becoming more transparent with prices.
Brian Douglas, co-founder of New
Choice Health , says that should be the goal. Douglas says he started NewChoiceHealth.com,
which lists price ranges for procedures at various facilities, to "help educate the
consumer that health care is retail.