Perhaps our collective shopping jones has kicked in, but The Regence Group of Blues plans has found that more consumers are comparison shopping for health services these days.

A new survey from the Blues plans that cover the Pacific Northwest Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington found that the number of people who comparison shop based on price and quality for medical services has grown to 70%. Note that this study was framed to assess Internet-based shopping habits.

That consumers adopt information-seeking behaviors in health care is a sine qua non for consumerism: information availability, access, flow and consumption makes markets behave like markets. Asymmetry of health information — whether price, quality, or clinical — has hampered consumer choice in health care markets.

Regence examined 25 health services that consumers (both insured and uninsured) might use in the next five years. These included non-urgent services such as diagnostic testing and childbirth on the more acute end of the spectrum to tooth-whitening on the least intensive.

Among these information seekers, 78% looked for quality information (preferred by those with health insurance) and 74% looked for cost information (preferred by those without health insurance).

The price-threshold for cost comparing is different in health than in consumer goods. Regence found that the “breakpoint” for cost-comparing in health care is $500, compared to $199 for durable consumer goods.

Regence is ahead of the health plan pack when it comes to being consumer-centric. Four years ago, in the early days of the consumer-directed health plan era, Regence worked with MyHealthBank (now owned by Trizetto) to launch www.myregence.com. The site enables Regence members to compare costs using a tool that ranks consumer preferences in a hospital (e.g., low infection rates), and then provides a list of facilities that match the consumer-specified criteria. It also estimates what the procedure would cost at each hospital.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: As we saw this past Cyber Monday following the Thanksgiving weekend, Americans are shopping online in record numbers. Combine their online shopping preference with consumers’ online shopping savvy and growing role in assessing the quality and price dimensions in health care, and you’ve got the recipe to drive more consumers online for health information. That’s what Regence found. As health plans and third parties push more good information online, Regence is telling us that more consumers will pull it through.

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