U-turn on medical device pricing reform explained in comparative charts made simple

Country/area: Taiwan

Organisation: The Central News Agency

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 13 Aug 2020

Credit: Huang shi-min, Lee Yi-ying, Lin Chi, Liu Zi-jia, Sung Yu-tai, Huang Shu-fang

Project description:

The National Health Insurance Administration caused a furore among doctors when, in June 2020, it made public a proposal to put a cap on the prices of medical devices available to patients willing to make a higher co-payment. 

The plan was quickly scrapped after much criticism. In order to help the public understand the potential impact of the proposed reform, we visualized open data made available by the NHI so that  readers could look up the price difference for each device and know how many of the devices would be affected in each category if the reform had taken effect.

Impact reached:

The issue of co-paid medical devices is complex and difficult to understand. When the NHI Administration announced the planned reform, not only doctors protested but it also drew criticism from the general public. Many of the critics, however, did not really know what the controversy was about. We organized the data and presented it visually so readers could join the debate armed with a clear knowledge about where they found the pricing unreasonable. 

A month after scrapping the proposal, the NHI Administration announced a revised system involving “extreme values,” which again drew flak, including a lot of emotional comments. It was at the moment that we put our series of charts and graphs online after cross comparing our data. We used figures to present the effect of the new system, with the hope that the public could obtain correct information before conducting a debate in a rational manner. The project was praised by our readers, with one medical professional describing it as “great work getting this data and organizing it, leaving those of us stuck in the heated debate appearing to be seeing things in a fog.”

Techniques/technologies used:

We used information obtained from the NHI Administration and its open data service, combined and categorized the information, and used R for its analysis before visualizing the result for readers to look up the price of an item under any category.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult part of this project was to familiarize with each medical device and to present information about it in a way that would be comprehensible to the average reader. When the new proposal was announced, much of the heated debate reflected a lack of understanding of the issue at hand on the part of the general public. We tried to visualize complex data and used figures to help people understand why there were price differences so they could discuss and decide whether the pricing was reasonable based on actual numbers. 

What can others learn from this project?

Instead of being real-time spot news, the project combined and cross analyzed data and provided more comprehensive information, allowing readers to search for details of the pricing of each medical device, including the extent of effect under the proposed reform and different prices set by individual hospitals. It helped both reporters and readers to gain overall understanding of the meaning of an event instead of having to rely on talking points provided by interest groups.

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