By Adrian Johansen, freelance writer; @AdrianJohanse18.
Medical debt is one of the many painful and confusing problems of the modern U.S. healthcare system. While care solutions develop and improve, costs only seem to go up along with the confusion faced by many patients. But can new preventative health technologies offer a reprieve from these high costs and corresponding debt?
As millions of Americans struggle with bills, especially in the wake of the pandemic, technology is here to help. Remote healthcare and cloud data innovations are creating a variety of solutions from the safety of home — even the U.S medical debt crisis.
The Unfortunate Reality of Medical Debt
Before the pandemic even struck, 137 million Americans were struggling with medical debt. Individuals and families alike find it all but impossible to meet their financial obligations to the healthcare industry and the result is negative for both patients and providers. With nearly half the total U.S. population facing medical payment difficulties, the question must be asked how we got here and what we can do about it.
The complexity of medical coding, insurance coverage, and provider communication leaves many confused and dejected. Facing barriers to success due to these complexities, patients are left with few options. As a result, bankruptcy is a massive problem spiraling out of the healthcare system; 66.5% of all bankruptcies are tied to medical problems and the inability to cover high medical costs. Even the attempt to consolidate debt by paying medical bills with a credit card can lead to devastating interest and inevitable bankruptcy for millions of struggling Americans.
And the inability to pay is not just a problem for patients. More than half of hospitals do not receive payments that recoup their costs, leading to even higher charges and spirals of financial damages for all.
In light of these issues, preventative health technology has the promise to make a difference.
How Emerging Tech Might Make a Difference
This potential has already been demonstrated in a wide variety of economic sectors. Just look at any automated process made possible by the accessibility of computers. Preventative medicine can operate as an automated process as well, helping to find and treat medical issues that would otherwise be costly and difficult to manage.
But new technology does not only act to reduce costs and labor for hospitals. Preventative digital health can help patients in a wide variety of ways. These are just a few:
- Fitness tracking — Mobile exercise apps and wearable fitness devices give patients unprecedented awareness of their health.
- Condition monitoring — Software and applications designed to monitor certain conditions mean patients can be instantly alerted to dangerous changes.
- Record access improvement — Improvements to database systems like those offered by blockchain technology allow for the secure decentralized transfer of information, making the patient the owner of their data.
All these benefits mean that patients have access to preventative care, sooner. This improves the overall effectiveness of care and leads to faster solutions, ultimately creating savings for the vast majority of patients and health care facilities when treating chronic diseases.
As far back as 2016, total costs for the treatment of chronic diseases in the U.S. totaled $1.1 trillion. The good news is that some of these chronic diseases can be prevented if caught early enough. Hypertension and obesity, for example, some of the largest contributors to chronic disease, can both be avoided by the application of and cooperation with preventative health technology like wearables and fitness trackers.
Healthcare facilities pairing applications with common tech can be an effective way to streamline communication between physician and patient. At the same time, patients have an active window into their health that offers the education to make better lifestyle choices. As a result, a good portion of that $1.1 trillion can be lifted off the burdens of the patients already struggling with their financial difficulties.
A Future of Better Care Solutions
Although technology has a long way to go before it solves the financial burdens of all patients, it’s definitive that it has the possibility to make a positive impact. Software and devices that make health monitoring straightforward are a worthwhile investment by creating a cost-efficient future for all involved. As costs only increase and move to the forefront for all patients, care providers face unsustainable losses.
With nearly one-in-four Americans avoiding preventative care altogether because of costs, the cost of chronic illness treatment will only go up. Hospitals will have no choice but to raise prices in an attempt to recoup the increasingly diminishing returns on patient debt.
However, none of that needs to be the case through the availability of preventative healthcare tech. The majority of American adults have a smartphone, one that can serve as a portal to convenient and cost-friendly healthcare. Care providers that embrace these mobile-friendly preventative care options now can better improve patient education, communication, and outcomes.
Readily available and faster preventative care means reduced costs and debt for millions of Americans, not to mention the improved health outcomes and lives saved.