Almost a third of consumers cited inflation as their top reason for being concerned about covering unexpected healthcare costs.
More than 70 million adults feel unprepared to pay for healthcare costs, while health systems are facing a tight labor market and ongoing supply chain issues, highlighting the financial repercussions of inflation in the healthcare industry.
Between 2001 and 2021, the cost of healthcare increased by 3.3 percent—faster than the cost of all goods and services (2.2 percent). Inflation in the United States has reached its highest point in 40 years, leading many consumers to rethink their spending on healthcare.
Hospitals and health systems are also feeling the effects of inflation in the form of rising costs, which could be passed on to consumers.
A Healthcare company conducted two surveys to determine how inflation is impacting consumer perspectives on healthcare spending. The company’s 2022 Survey of US Health Care Consumers gathered responses from 4,545 people between February and March 2022, and the company 2022 Pulse Survey of US Consumers surveyed 2,005 people in September 2022.
Nearly a third of respondents said inflation was the top reason they are concerned about covering unexpected healthcare needs. Meanwhile, 28 percent, or 72 million adults, reported feeling less prepared to pay for routine and unexpected healthcare than last year.
Inflation is also making consumers reconsider their health insurance, with 13 percent planning to change their health plan to reduce costs for 2023 health insurance and 17 percent still deciding whether they will switch plans.
Rising expenses have caused Americans to delay routine care, cancer screenings, and preventive care, which can lead to poor health outcomes. In addition, forgoing regular care could exacerbate health issues and force people to receive care in high-cost settings.
Virtual health may be a potential solution to these financial challenges hindering healthcare access, the company surveys suggested.
Virtual health visits increased from 22 percent in 2018 to 44 percent in early 2022.
Over a quarter of consumers (26 percent) who do not have a health plan that covers virtual visits said they intend to change their plans to accommodate the service. Consumers cited convenience (38 percent) and cost (27 percent) as the top reasons for seeking virtual healthcare services.
Virtual visits could mean less money spent on transportation, parking, and childcare for consumers. The modality also offers an opportunity for providers to expand their services and partner with other organizations, potentially diminishing the impact of inflation.
“The convergence of inflation with the demands from today’s empowered healthcare consumer may be the catalyst for industry change that propels us toward virtual and digital health options that are designed to be more convenient, affordable, and accessible,” an expert said in the press release.
“This will require rethinking how services are delivered [and] how consumers can be empowered to take control of their health earlier and more proactively. This can accelerate transitioning to new models of screening, prevention, care, and cure that we call the ‘Future of Health.’”
Patient retention is critical as health systems face financial challenges due to inflation. Establishing trust between patients and clinicians is also essential, as 63 percent of consumers said they’d be willing to switch doctors if they don’t like how their current doctor communicates.
The company also found that consumers would trade in-person visits and location convenience for a provider who understands their needs and relates to them.
To build trust with patients, healthcare organizations should collaborate with trusted community partners, provide cost transparency tools, and discuss social drivers of health with patients to help them make informed decisions.