By: Angie Adams
An increased number of patients feel financially squeezed. Fifty-eight percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and roughly 70% report they feel stress due to inflation, rising interest rates and economic uncertainty. As a result, many are delaying medical treatment.
A Gallup poll found that 38% of patients reported delaying medical treatment last year due to cost, up from 26% in 2021. That is the largest increase since Gallup started tracking data in 2001.
While patients struggle to keep up with the rising costs of practically everything, including the cost of care, medical practices face their own challenges from increased expenses.
Medical practices already under pressure
Healthcare affordability isn’t a new challenge. It’s been prevalent for years. But with the trend of high health insurance deductibles and rising out-of-pocket expenses, inflation has exacerbated the issue.
And while practices want to help patients navigate difficulties, they face their own financial headwinds. Rising operating expenses and higher labor costs are challenging providers. Many have multiyear contracts with payers. As a result, they’re still getting paid the same amount for services as they did before inflationary cost jumps.
This problem leaves providers in a difficult spot. On the one hand, they want to ease patients’ worries, but on the other, they must avoid being in the red on their balance sheets.
How medical practices can help
As providers work to keep their practices fiscally healthy and continue serving patients, there are steps they can take to support patients and lessen financial burdens. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Support patients with alternatives to high-interest debt. Many patients turn to credit cards to manage unexpected expenses, but with continued rate increases, interest rates are very high. The average credit card rate is nearly 20%, up from just 16% during 2022. If you’re financially able, consider offering patients low-interest repayment options with slightly longer payment terms.
- Support patients through increased cost transparency. The unknown creates anxiety. A patient with a health issue and no idea about the potential expenses can feel stressed and avoid seeking help. When you provide cost transparency, patients get clarity around expenses, relieving their anxiety so that they can create a plan for repayment.
- Partner with healthcare payers. Consider working with as many payers as possible, securing solid contracts and good patient coverage. Also, when it’s time to renegotiate expiring contracts, ensure that new rates allow you to support patients by easing financial worries.
- Rethink the delivery of care. Patients have healthcare costs outside the traditional office visit, such as childcare, time off from work, and travel expenses — all of which add to the expense. When appropriate, telehealth appointments help reduce these costs and mitigate those less–traditional expenses. However, as the pandemic eased, the number of telehealth visits fell. Roughly one in four patient visits are currently telehealth, yet these visits can be key to lessening a patient’s financial load.
Easing patient stress and finding new solutions
Medical providers know that patients are increasingly worried about costs. They know that patients need relief. And yes, taking action is important, but in the future, that action might be closely tied to increased transparency and easier access to data.
For example, a practitioner might say, “I’m going to provide you with a referral for physical therapy. Here are three options and the out-of-pocket cost for each.” This level of transparency could empower patients to make more-informed and cost-effective decisions about their own care.
Granted, solving the pain around healthcare affordability isn’t a quick fix, but any steps that practices take to lessen patients’ economic strains help encourage timely care, and, potentially, result in better health outcomes