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Online shopping for medical services

Work & Lifestyle

The US health-care industry may be best known for its problems, which currently include a labyrinth of Byzantine rules and regulations, covert pricing schemes and millions of citizens without insurance. At the end of January, however, a Minnesota-based site launched that just may give the industry the shake-up it so desperately needs. Carol, also billed as The Care Marketplace, describes itself as an online shopping mall that gives consumers everything they need to shop, compare and purchase health care much the way they do other goods and services. Focusing on the Minneapolis and Twin Cities area, consumers can go online to compare the cost and quality of more than 350 health services from local, competing health care providers and doctors, and then select the option best suited for them. Participating providers create condition-specific care packages of related health care services, such as common immunizations, neck and back pain diagnosis and treatment, pregnancy classes, a year’s worth of diabetes care, or in-home check-ups. Each provider specifies on Carol’s site what’s included, the location of treatment, the types of patients treated (men, women or kids) and the total price of the package, along with quality information and customer ratings. Carol, meanwhile, works with insurance companies to verify consumer membership and provide cost estimates for care packages. The result is that consumers can apply their health insurance benefits and instantly view base prices and estimated in-network and out-of-pocket costs for each health care service. Carol’s services are free for consumers with or without health insurance, and appointments can be scheduled online through the site. Thirty Minneapolis-area providers have already joined Carol, which plans to expand to additional US markets over the course of this year. Health-care entrepreneurs: This could do for health care what Travelocity did for airline reservations. Pay close attention! (Related: Doctor 2.0.)

Email: customerservice@carol.com

Website: www.carol.com

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