Emerging price transparency tools allow consumers to access individualized out-of-pocket cost (OOPC) estimates, but many lack quality metrics. The aim of this study was to evaluate how potential patients weigh imaging OOPC versus measures of quality when selecting an imaging center for a hypothetical health condition (back pain).
Surveying 1,310 Amazon Mechanical Turk volunteers, the authors evaluated how potential patients weigh MRI OOPC ($50 vs $400 vs unknown cost at the time of the examination, with billed OOPC responsibility varying between $50 and $3,500) versus service quality surrogates using three different quality indicators (examination results accuracy, physician recommendation of an imaging center on the basis of familiarity, and facility online star ratings) in their decisions when selecting a radiology center for imaging of two hypothetical clinical conditions (mild and severe back pain), using ranking-based conjoint analyses.
A total of 1,025 eligible respondents completed the survey. Respondents expressed higher preference for perceived quality over cost in hypothetical severe back pain scenarios, resulting in a relative importance of 65.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 62.2%-69.4%) for improved imaging results accuracy from 87% to 96%, 63.9% (95% CI, 60.3%-67.5%) for provider recommendations of the facility, and 80.1% (95% CI, 74.2%-85.9%) for an increase in online review star ratings from 2.5 to 4.5 (out of 5) compared with an increased cost from $50 to $400. For mild back pain, there was no statistical difference in respondents’ preference for perceived quality and cost.
Incorporating quality metrics into price transparency tools is important. Further research is needed to identify metrics that are most comparable and easily obtainable across imaging centers that remain important to patients.

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