As we look towards 2024 and prepare for what the new year will bring, it’s important to tie patient expectations directly to our business outlooks. This past year has been an exercise in patience for us all while our economy has weathered a storm of supply chain disruptions and high inflation, financially straining many. Insured Americans surveyed with an employee-sponsored health insurance plan could spend more than $320,000 in out-of-pocket costs during their lifetime, according to CareCredit’s Lifetime of Healthcare Costs research study.1 Respondents estimated they spend an average of $5,266 on individual annual healthcare costs including insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Lifetime costs were extrapolated during an adult lifetime between the ages of 18 and 79. For adults who purchase their own insurance without employer or government subsidies or live with chronic illness, that number could double — topping $700,000 over a lifetime.1
The study also found 28% of respondents reported delaying a recommended medical procedure because of its cost, while 17% ignored recommendations for care outright.1 For many of these patients, committing to care may also be impacted by the quality of care they receive relative to the cost. Quality of care can be impacted by factors like interactions with the care team, how clearly their treatment estimates were explained or how easy it was to pay their bill, among other things. People are looking at healthcare beyond just a necessity and are instead viewing it more with a consumerist lens, “What am I getting out of this?”
As a result of this mindset shift, patients are looking to stretch their dollar further by getting the best patient experience they can for their money. McKinsey & Co. found that the payment experience is particularly important in deciding on whether or not to return to a provider2 and a 2019 survey reported that half of health consumers were frustrated with their providers patient billing and collections processes,3 a feeling that may contribute to them being less likely to return to that practice. When patients decide to move forward with care, they want a quality experience, from the scheduling experience to the care experience to the payment process.
How a challenging payment experience can impact practices
With costs being a significant factor for patients, practices can be directly impacted when patients feel they don’t have the resources and options to move forward with the care they want and need. Practices could see shrinking patient pools and delayed time to payment.
Practices should consider removing surprises and payment hurdles from the payment experience by ensuring patients are aware of the costs associated with their treatments, as well as their options to pay. This is why it is essential to discuss costs and financing options with patients earlier in the care process, helping to reduce issues with payments down the line.
Education and transparency need to be at the core
To start, providers can address patients’ fundamental understanding of their costs. Our study found that healthcare costs over a lifetime can be in the same range as a mortgage or college tuition – huge expenses for which most people must actively budget and save. Yet, less than half of Americans actively save for future healthcare expenses and 4 out of 5 don’t have a dedicated savings account for healthcare.1 Without a strong financial foundation to support their ability to afford care, it is unsurprising that so many are forced to put it off.
This isn’t a generational issue either. While younger generations were found to be less prepared than older generations, 75% of all survey respondents said they didn’t believe healthcare was affordable.1 So, we know that regardless of age, many patients have become the “payor,” with costs transitioning off insurers to patients due to rising premiums, co-pays and changes in health plans’ models. These trends put more pressure on the individual and as a result, patients choose their providers based more on pricing and cost transparency. This means that if providers want to see new patients choose their practice, they should consider prioritizing financial conversations as part of care discussions.
Financial options help alleviate payment stress
While high costs are a broader issue facing the entire healthcare industry, on the individual level, providers can help patients address affordability concerns by educating patients on their options. This could include pointing them towards state/federal assistance programs, HSAs/FSAs, and financing options, both in-house and third-party — such as Synchrony’s CareCredit health and wellness credit card, which allows patients to spread costs across monthly payments that help fit into their budgets. For more information about CareCredit, you can visit the Synchrony website here.
Additionally, making sure staff are trained to improve education around patient resources so that they can navigate patients directly to the information they need before, during or after their care is a sure way to get ahead of any billing surprises down the line. Investing in a third-party financing partner to help patients navigate payment and financing options is an easy way to help patients manage cost when it comes time to pay the bill — and it helps minimize accounts receivable and administrative burden.
As a financial solutions provider, CareCredit offers a wide range of educational resources for consumers, including information about the cost of healthcare procedures, solutions to pay out of pocket care expenses, and opportunities to reference insights from care experts on the CareCredit Well U health and wellness blog. Resources for patients can be found at www.carecredit.com/well-u/. Having these financial insights and a flexible financing option at their fingertips, patients feel empowered to make informed decisions which can help them move forward with care.
These are just a few ways to address payment stress, but are areas that we see patients value highly when considering their overall patient experience. While cost is only one part of that puzzle, it does seem to be the greatest source of stress and anxiety for many. If we can remove that financial friction and get more people to the doctor’s office, we’re helping our patients and our practices be stronger and healthier in the long run.
- 2022 CareCredit Lifetime of Healthcare Costs Research. CareCredit is a Synchrony solution.
- McKinsey & Company. Driving Growth Through Consumer Centricity in Healthcare. March 14, 2023. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare/our-insights/driving-growth-through-consumer-centricity-in-healthcare
- Cedar. 2019 Healthcare Consumer Study. October 2019. https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/5672097/Content%20Assets/Patient%20Survey%202019/Patient_Survey_Exec_Summary_Final.pdf