Pestilli said the large Medicare data sets that the researchers used were made openly available as part of the 2010 ACA.
“Our research capitalized on such openly shared data,” Pestilli says. “We demonstrate the value of open data in providing society with critical insights on hidden costs that can be addressed at the policy level.”
But Jorge Mejia said transparency alone is not enough to fix these hidden costs. That’s why studies like this one are important; they help interpret the data so the public can better understand what it means.
“As a society, we have had the potential for quantifying and qualifying the influence of the industry on our medical costs,” he says. “However, we have not done so. For example, we are just discovering the extent to which certain healthcare companies may be involved in the current opioid crisis in the U.S. We need tools to guide patients and consumers with all the data that is available.”
To help achieve this goal, Jorge Mejia says he hopes Medicare will make it easier for researchers and the public to quantify the effect of the payments received by medical providers by adding the national physician identifier (NPI) to their Open Payments data set. Additionally, he hopes the research team’s findings will start a conversation about how to communicate this information to consumers.
“We have energy efficiency scorecards for appliances, cars, and many consumer products,” Jorge Mejia says. “How can the public understand whether their physician is close to the healthcare industry? Instead of making this about whether it’s good or bad, I’d like to kick-start a conversation about how information can be delivered in a simple way. Let’s put patients in the driver’s seat.”
The researchers have several follow-up projects in progress, including one that aims to investigate how industry payments may drive future medical costs, which would bring them one step closer to establishing a causal relationship between payments and costs.