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Problematic Medical Bills Drive Consumers To Cut Back On Care

Posted on November 7, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As we all know, patients and families are taking over responsibility for a steadily greater percentage of their healthcare costs over time. Not surprisingly, this can affect their medical decisions in negative ways. In fact, a new study has documented that their medical bills are confusing or unexpected, a patient may get overwhelmed and simply skip some forms of care entirely.

The study, which was conducted by Hanover Research and sponsored by HealthSparq, surveyed more than 1,000 Americans on their experiences with unexpected medical bills. The results should be unsettling to anyone in outpatient services, especially those in primary care.

Researchers found that more than half (53%) of respondents had received a surprise medical bill over the past 12 months. This included bills that were higher than expected (60%), for services they thought were covered by insurance but weren’t (62%) and from multiple providers when they expected to get just one (42%).

When faced with these frustrating billing situations, patients may drop out of their care routine to some extent. Many skip routine checkups (40%), routine health screenings (39%) or care for injuries (39%).

A substantial number of respondents (40%) conceded that they could’ve avoided such shocks by doing more to better understand their benefits and healthcare processes, in addition to blaming their insurers (45%) or their health providers (42%). Regardless, it appears that a large number didn’t know who was responsible for the problem, which doesn’t bode well for their future health behavior.

Look, everyone knows that offering an accurate estimate of patient financial liabilities could be a nightmare in some situations, particularly if insurance companies don’t play nicely with the billing department. It’s also true that in some cases, patients simply won’t be able to pay the bill regardless of how you present it, a problem you certainly can’t surmise on your own as a medical practice.

That being said, you can take a look at the bills your practice management system produces and get a sense whether they’re decipherable to those who don’t work within the organization. Even if the PM system does a good job of supporting your end of the process, that doesn’t mean it’s turning out bills that patients can use and understand.

Yes, arguably the most important thing a practice management system does is to support your claims process effectively, but seeing to it that patients aren’t overwhelmed by their bills is clearly a big deal too. Particularly under value-based care, you can’t afford to have them holding off on the services that will keep them well.

#HIMSS16: Some Questions I Plan To Ask

Posted on February 1, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As most readers know, health IT’s biggest annual event is just around the corner, and the interwebz are heating up with discussions about what #HIMSS16 will bring. The show, which will take place in Las Vegas from February 29 to March 4, offers a ludicrously rich opportunity to learn about new HIT developments — and to mingle with more than 40,000 of the industry’s best and brightest (You may want to check out the session Healthcare Scene is taking part in and the New Media Meetup).

While you can learn virtually anything healthcare IT related at HIMSS, it helps to have an idea of what you want to take away from the big event. In that spirit, I’d like to offer some questions that I plan to ask, as follows:

  • How do you plan to support the shift to value-based healthcare over the next 12 months? The move to value-based payment is inevitable now, be it via ACOs or Medicare incentive programs under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. But succeeding with value-based payment is no easy task. And one of the biggest challenges is building a health IT infrastructure that supports data use to manage the cost of care. So how do health systems and practices plan to meet this technical challenge, and what vendor solutions are they considering? And how do key vendors — especially those providing widely-used EMRs — expect to help?
  • What factors are you considering when you upgrade your EMR? Signs increasingly suggest that this may be the year of the forklift upgrade for many hospitals and health systems. Those that have already invested in massiveware EMRs like Cerner and Epic may be set, but others are ripping out their existing systems (notably McKesson). While in previous years the obvious blue-chip choice was Epic, it seems that some health systems are going with other big-iron vendors based on factors like usability and lower long-term cost of ownership. So, given these trends, how are health systems’ HIT buying decisions shaping up this year, and why?
  • How much progress can we realistically expect to make with leveraging population health technology over the next 12 months? I’m sure that when I travel the exhibit hall at HIMSS16, vendor banners will be peppered with references to their population health tools. In the past, when I’ve asked concrete questions about how they could actually impact population health management, vendor reps got vague quickly. Health system leaders, for their part, generally admit that PHM is still more a goal than a concrete plan.  My question: Is there likely to be any measurable progress in leveraging population health tech this year? If so, what can be done, and how will it help?
  • How much impact will mobile health have on health organizations this year? Mobile health is at a fascinating moment in its evolution. Most health systems are experimenting with rolling out their own apps, and some are working to integrate those apps with their enterprise infrastructure. But to date, it seems that few (if any) mobile health efforts have made a real impact on key areas like management of chronic conditions, wellness promotion and clinical quality improvement. Will 2016 be the year mobile health begins to deliver large-scale, tangible health results? If so, what do vendors and health leaders see as the most promising mHealth models?

Of course, these questions reflect my interests and prejudices. What are some of the questions that you hope to answer when you go to Vegas?