Imagine going to the doctor and finding out how much the visit was actually going to cost you before you left, rather than getting a bill in the mail 30 days later. It would be like ... I don't know -- any other shopping experience.

The practice is becoming more common. Yesterday, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) announced that doctors who use athenahealth's (Nasdaq: ATHN) services would be able to get real-time quotes for their patients. athenahealth already has the system set up with Humana (NYSE: HUM), and TriZetto Group (Nasdaq: TZIX) also has a point-of-service system that can be integrated with health-care networks.

UnitedHealth has a separate system on its website for doctors to get real-time costs, but I think the partnership with athenahealth implies that not too many doctors are using it. My guess is that it was too much work for the doctors' offices, since many offices probably had to input information twice -- once on UnitedHealth's website and again into their own billing system. For doctors who use athenahealth's system for claims, it'll be integrated into one system.

Unfortunately, that's only a small fraction of UnitedHealth's claims. Having a point-of-service pricing system seems like a good way for UnitedHealth to keep its customers happy, so it seems like a prudent move to set up more partnerships with other claims systems.

With the increasing cost of health care, the next obvious integration is with banks. That way, patients will not only be able to know how much the trip to the ER is going to cost them, but also the interest rate on any resulting debt -- Fools with emergency funds excluded.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy likes to knit in its spare time.