Twenty years ago when you set off on a summer road trip, you likely used a well-worn AAA travel book to guide your hotel selection. No reviews – just approximate cost and a few words describing amenities.

Today, you wouldn’t think twice about checking multiple websites to compare prices, search for specific amenities and read reviews before deciding where to pull in for the night.

Technology is helping bridge the gap between the physical world and what’s online, giving consumers the experiences they want. It’s called convergence, according to a Modern Healthcare survey outlining how comfortable consumers are with contacting their physician through technology.

The survey’s authors, Ernst & Young, say technology will reduce wait times and lower medical costs. And it’s time for consumers to take advantage of online tools to drive their health care choices.

They are comparing costs and providers

Costs for medical services such as an MRI can differ by more than $1,200 depending on where you go for care. Medicare pricing data shows it’s what’s behind the machine that makes the difference.

“Consumers are demanding greater transparency when it comes health care costs,” said Dr. Joann Schaefer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska executive vice president. “Spending a little time online can have a big impact on reducing costs.”

Technology and online cost tools also provide the ability to budget for procedures, such as labor and delivery or knee replacement survey. This is especially important as more Nebraskans enroll in high-deductible health plans. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (calPERS), for example, has started to guide enrollees to facilities offering routine hip and knee replacements for less than $30,000. Since the program began in 2011, calPERS has saved $2.8 million.

Shopping for the best prices on medication

Today 55 percent of Americans regularly take at least one or more prescription drugs. One way patients can reduce drug costs is by asking their doctor for a generic alternative. Additionally, pharmacy benefit managers like Prime Therapeutics  can help consumers save by recommending alternative drug options to discuss with their doctor or pharmacist.

Using telemedicine

A new study from the National Business Group on Health shows nearly 96 percent of employers plan to offer telemedicine to their employees in 2018. In many cases, virtual visits are offered for free or as a lower-cost option than a visit to the doctor’s office or a trip to the ER.

Other ways you can save on medical costs

>> In network vs. out of network. Did you know that when you go to a doctor who’s in your health plan network you receive negotiated discounts? That means you often pay less than you would if you used a doctor who is out of network. Any type of medical expense will usually be less expensive at a provider, facility or pharmacy that is in a health plan’s network.

>> Preventive visits. Annual well visits, immunizations, mammograms and colonoscopies are designed to help avoid major health problems down the road. Also, there is a significant advantage when a patient has a relationship with a primary care doctor they see on a regular basis. A recent study found that patients who stayed with the same primary care doctor had a higher probability of avoiding ER visits and hospital admissions, saving patients out-of-pocket expenses.

>> Wellness programs and apps. Health and fitness app usage has grown in the past several years, and as a result, consumers are staying active and engaged in healthy behaviors – spending less time and money at their doctor’s office.

“Technology is changing the way Americans shop and communicate, so it’s no stretch to see technology improving the health care industry as well,” Schaefer said. “This shift in consumer behavior is empowering them to make smarter decisions that impact not only their health, but their wallets.”