Why Patients Are Gaining More Power

08/25/2011 08:18 am ET | Updated Oct 25, 2011

If you listen to economic news even a little, you'll soon hear about the importance of consumer spending. "Consumer spending remains a concern" ... "In previous years, consumers would have picked up the slack for the decrease in spending elsewhere," and so forth.

Clearly, everyday people are an important engine for America's economy. As a result, they deserve access to the vital information they need to make smart purchases. For many other products and services, they do. They can check Edmunds when considering a car, or Consumer Reports when shopping for appliances or other purchases, large and small. They can check the estimated value of homes on Zillow while looking for a new house. And they can download coupons and find other discounts online for smaller items.

Unfortunately, when it comes to getting the information that helps them be savvy shoppers for one of the most expensive needs they could ever have -- a surgery or other major medical intervention -- consumers have traditionally been out of luck. Fortunately, that's changing.

At the end of my book, "The New Prescription," I urge readers to constantly be looking for reputable sources of information to help them compare prices of health care goods and services, and I predicted that more and more of these would become available in coming years. As this Wall Street Journal piece attests, this field is indeed evolving rapidly.

Many Americans are getting their health coverage through high-deductible plans these days, so they have a newfound interest in seeking bargains, since they're responsible for the first outlay of money for their medical care each year (in some cases, many thousands of dollars).

The WSJ piece discussed a number of services that people can access -- some of which are available to employees or customers of companies who use the service. Others are freely available online.

If you're planning an upcoming procedure or you're facing a health threat that will require significant medical care, it's in your best interest to get your hands on as much of this information as possible -- especially if you have a high-deductible plan.

Services that may be useful, which were discussed in the Wall Street Journal story, include:
Castlight Health
FAIR health
Healthcare Blue Book

It's also a good idea to see if you can get pricing information through your employer's human resources department or from your insurer.

Is it a good idea to base your medical decisions solely on getting the cheapest price? I say no.

Is it wise to spend more for an identical service if you can save 20 percent or more? Also, no -- especially if you enjoy directing your consumer spending toward purchases that are more fun.

For more on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out Dr. Cynthia Haines' book, "The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System" (HCI Books, Dr. Cynthia Haines and Eric Metcalf). This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. More medical care doesn't mean better health. Dr. Cynthia Haines and Metcalf reveal some of the most egregious problems with a medical system gone awry, opening readers' eyes to how to better navigate the changes underway. Using solid research, insiders' insights, and patient anecdotes, they offer cost-effective and potentially life-saving ways to get more out of health care while using less of it. Find Dr. Cynthia Haines on Facebook @, the Dr. Cynthia Haines YouTube channel, and