What To Expect From Your Patients in 2021: Financial Stress

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New Year, Same Old Pumpkin

Well, the new year is here and despite our best wishes, COVID-19 is still rearing its ugly head. Remember when we all thought it would be over by summer of last year? We rolled into the holiday season secretly hoping 2021 would wave its magic wand and the coronavirus would be a thing of the past. The clock struck midnight, we squeezed our eyes shut in excited anticipation, and opened them to discover that what we hoped would be a horse-drawn carriage is just the same old pumpkin.

However, the abrupt challenges of 2020 lead us down a path of flexibility, resilience, and ingenuity. Lindsay R. Resnick captures the transition well in his blog titled, “Industry Voices – Sure, COVID-19 will still be with us in 2021. But what else lies ahead for healthcare?” He writes, “As we close out a year when ‘you’re on mute’ emerged as the top quote, expect 2021 to be another 12 months of ‘business as usual’ in healthcare. Remain resilient, but prepare to pivot. Plan for disorder, reset strategic priorities, reenergize value propositions and anticipate a future of uncertainty in the march down the road of COVID-19 recovery. Your customers depend on it.” (1)

New Year, New Kind of Patient

There’s not much left in the world that hasn’t been visibly affected by the pandemic, including your patients. A staggering forty-eight percent of patients say the pandemic has changed the way they use healthcare according to this healthinsurance.com survey. (2) The rise of consumerism within healthcare is not new by any means; however, it is amplified due to the unique pandemic-related challenges your patients are now facing. One thing’s for sure going forward in 2021 – “pre-pandemic” healthcare is most definitely a thing of the past.

Financially Stressed Patients

Financial stress is affecting how patients interact with their healthcare. In the opening sentence of her Patient Engagement Hit blog, Sara Health grabs her readers’ attention by writing, “More than one-third of patients are more worried about the patient financial responsibility associated with COVID-19 than actually getting the illness itself, a recent survey conducted by ResearchScape on behalf of VisitPay found.” (3) She goes on to paint a picture of just how economically devastating the pandemic has been to Americans. She writes, “Sixty-one percent of respondents said this recession in 2020 is having a bigger impact on their families than the 2008 Great Recession. An overwhelming 66 percent of patients said COVID-19 is the biggest source of financial stress for US adults.” (3)

Going back to the previously mentioned blog, Resnick writes, “…loss of employer-based health benefits is estimated to result in over 10 million people being added to ranks of uninsured.” He stresses the imperative for healthcare stakeholders to help customers navigate the “system” to make personalized, value-based clinical and financial decisions. (1)

Healthcare Consumerism on the Rise

Out of pandemic-related necessity, patients are skipping out on prescriptions, delaying care, and scaling back on preventative healthcare. Prior to choosing a healthcare provider, the modern-day, mid-pandemic patient is looking into price transparency, convenient billing methods, flexible payment options, compassionate customer service, clear communication, and other facets of a healthcare facility’s billing and financial experience.

“As more patients dread high medical bills, they will become more likely to shop around for the best buy care. Medical organizations may benefit from implementing patient billing, payment plans, and price transparency tools to ease that transition to consumerism,” according to the previously referenced Patient Engagement Hit blog. (3)

Mnet Health published an article highlighting TransUnion Healthcare’s second annual patient survey. Mnet notes, “Economic challenges are causing younger generations to drive health care consumerism. For example, one-third (33%) of Generation Z and 29% of millennial patients reported their health insurance coverage was impacted due to the pandemic (compared to 22% of overall respondents, 18% of Generation X and 12% of baby boomers).” (4) Mnet goes on to quote president of TransUnion Healthcare, David Wojczynsk, “ Our latest survey illustrates to providers just how important it is to offer flexible care delivery options and payment experiences for their patients during this period of uncertainty, as well as understand and address individual payments. (4)

Gentle, but Productive Patient Financial Conversations

Unlike 2020, I’ll conclude on a positive note and leave you with some constructive, practical advice from Healthcare Financial Management Association’s podcast. BHG Patient Lending’s Keith Gruebele explains how to navigate the potentially touchy topic of medical bills with patients during such a sensitive time. Beginning at time marker 9:25, it’s about two minute listen and well worth your time. In a nutshell, he quickly walks through the following bullet points to help relieve any potential conflict when discussing finances with patients. (5)

  1. Communicate: Help make patients aware of any potential future out of pocket expenses at the time of the appointment.
  2. Set the tone: Let your patients know their good health is your top priority and that personal, flexible payment plans are available.
  3. Enhance Communication Tools: Provide your patients with estimates if possible. Educate your patients about available tools for them to use.
  4. “Plant the seed in a soft and gentle way”: Compassionately talk with your patients regarding any potential medical bills ahead of time as to eliminate any billing surprises and the “out of sight, out of mind” tendency.

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Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC



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