Potential plastic surgery patients are more likely to book procedures if they are price-aware than if they are not price-aware, according to a new study. The findings support price transparency in cosmetic practice, according to the study’s coauthor Jonathan Kaplan, M.D., MPH, owner, Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery, San Francisco, Calif., and developer of the lead generation-price transparency platform, BuildMyBod Health.
Dr. Kaplan conducted the study in his first year in private practice in a new city by integrating the price-transparency platform, which is a cost-estimator, into his practice website. Consumers would make wish lists of cosmetic procedures and check to see what Dr. Kaplan would charge to perform them. Consumers got the price estimates, while Dr. Kaplan’s practice got consumers’ contact information for follow-up.
In the first year and without spending money on advertising, Dr. Kaplan’s website received 412 wish lists from 208 consumers. Nearly 18% of those consumers came in for a consultation and 62% of the people who came in booked a procedure. The average value of the booked procedures was more than $4,000 and the total revenue generated from all leads from the price transparency platform was $92,000, according to the study’s abstract.
When Dr. Kaplan compared non–price-aware patients with price-aware patients, those who knew price were 41% more likely to book a procedure.
The study concludes that prudent integration of price transparency into a medical practice can generate leads for patients who are paying out of pocket for medically necessary procedures, as well as procedures and services not typically covered by insurance, such as cosmetic surgery.
Cosmetic Surgery Times asked Dr. Kaplan if physicians who put their prices online should consider lowering prices or making sure they’re competitive in their communities.
“The point of price transparency, at least in cosmetic surgery, is not to have the most competitive, lowest price. We're not trying to attract ‘price shoppers,’" he says. “The doctor should want to provide honest pricing so that the consults he or she sees are more likely to progress from the exam room to the operating room.”
The key, according to Dr. Kaplan, is that cosmetic surgeons post pricing honestly — reflecting the true prices that patients would be quoted in the office.
“Sometimes I overestimate the cost to be more inclusive for all body types — a tummy tuck, for example,” Dr. Kaplan says. “That way, when most patients come in, because they're smaller than average, the OR time is less, so their cost is less. How many times has your actual price been less than the estimated price?! Patients love the surprise of something being more affordable!”
Price Transparency: Not for Everyone
Despite the potential benefits, price transparency isn't for everyone, according to Dr. Kaplan.
“I worked with one doctor … that integrated this pricing estimator into his website. He got a lead from a patient that checked pricing on a breast aug after entering [her] contact information into his pricing estimator. The patient came in for a consult and booked,” Dr. Kaplan says. “Instead of being thrilled that this lead became a paying patient, he told me how disappointed he was that the patient knew the price ahead of time because, once he saw the patient, he realized [she] could probably afford to pay more. Aside from being unethical to economically profile your patients, if you're this type of doctor, price transparency may not be for you.”
While the prices cosmetic surgeons post should be honest, they are estimates.
“If a patient checks pricing for a mini tummy tuck and they come to the consult and they really need a full tummy tuck, that's not an example of ‘bait and switch’ (which is illegal and unethical). That's educating the patient on realistic expectations,” Dr. Kaplan says.
Another important component of the online BuildMyBod platform, according to Dr. Kaplan, is that no one can see the prices for specific procedures until they submit a wish list of procedures and their contact information.
“So, if there's a nosy doctor that wants to check their competitor’s prices, then that nosy doctor will be receiving a call from the price transparent doctor's office, trying to book them for a consult,” Dr. Kaplan says.