Now you can comparison shop for a colonoscopy as you would a new flat screen television.

United Healthcare is expanding an online tool that enables health plan participants to comparison shop for medical services based on quality and cost.

The free tool, myHealthcare Cost Estimator, lets health plan members compare information for 450 common services and procedures at hospitals and doctor offices nationwide. It provides information about surgeries, lab tests, radiology tests, office visits and more.

Results individualized

The tool also lets users personalize the results to reflect their own health insurance plan benefits. They can see how much they would pay out of pocket for services, what costs their employers would pay, and what medical expense account balances, if any, they had available to pay for out-of-pocket health-care costs.

The cost estimator can provide information on more than 540,000 doctors and 4,500 hospitals nationwide.

The tool is free to employers and plan participants at through the Health4Me app. The site and app also can be accessed on mobile devices.

Based on contracted rates

The estimates are based on United Healthcare's contracted rates with doctors, hospitals, clinics and other health-care providers, which makes the pricing information accurate. Many cost estimators rely only on historical claims data or provide estimates based on geographic averages.

Plan members with questions about estimates can call the number on the back of their health benefits ID cards or use the click-to-call feature on the Health4Me mobile app to talk with a customer care professional.

The tool also includes nurse support and provides information on common alternate treatment options so patients can make informed choices.

The estimator found costs for procedures can vary greatly. For example, the total cost of a colonoscopy at hospitals in Phoenix can be anywhere from $1,540 to $6,020. Knee treatments in Seattle can range from $460 to $2,470 at health-care facilities.

Helps educate health-care consumers

In a survey, 67 percent of those who have used myHealthcare Cost Estimator said it gave them the confidence to make better choices, and 84 percent said they likely would use it again.

Kathleen Herath, associate vice president of health and productivity at Nationwide Insurance, said that the tool helps its employees more effectively manage their health care costs and that Nationwide is encouraging its employees to use it.

United Healthcare launched the tool last year and recently expanded it to 70 additional markets to cover more than 165 geographic areas.