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How Will Americans Overcome Fear of Healthcare?

 July 25, 2018

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

Are you afraid of doctors? Do you dread serious illness? Both fears may be well founded, but a recent poll has revealed that higher deductibles and out-of-network costs loom much larger in the mind of the average American.

2016 was the year that U.S. healthcare costs hit more than $10,000 a year per person. In the last year alone, 44 percent of Americans said they didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick or injured because of financial concerns, according to a recent national poll. Another 40 percent said they skipped a recommended medical test or treatment.

Here’s the kicker. Most people who are delaying or skipping care actually have health insurance. Of those surveyed, 86 percent are either on Medicare or Medicaid, purchased their own insurance, or are covered through their employer.

In the long run, skipping or delaying care impacts the quality of care. The cost will increase due to untimely visits or delay of care. Yet, the numbers reveal that, for Americans, it is all about the short term. Sure, 33 percent were “extremely afraid” or “very afraid” of getting seriously ill but 40 percent said paying for health care is more frightening than the illness itself.

Perhaps it could be argued that a certain degree of ignorance is the root of their fears. After all, health insurance can get rather complicated. 54 percent of those polled received one or more medical bills over the past year for something they thought was covered by their insurance. Meanwhile, 53 percent said they received a bill that was higher than they expected.

Consumers are simply confused when it comes to the range of different fees for the same services. This is why medical professionals believe in standardization of care. By increasing transparency and reducing the variability of the way patients are cared for, quality of care will improve and cost will decrease.

Advances in medical technology are also expected to help bring down costs in the future. Industry leaders, like the Cleveland Clinic, rely heavily on digital tools to enhance the provider experience. They began as early adopters of electronic medical records and telemedicine. Through its Express Care Online portal, the clinic reported more than 25,000 virtual visits in 2017. Its relationship with IBM is expected to yield breakthroughs in the improvement of care via AI, cognitive computing and data analytics. Data gathered from wearables, imaging, implants and genetic profiling are expected to result in more individualized and personalized care.  Hopefully, all of this technological advancement will mean shared knowledge, less fear and lower healthcare costs.

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