Doctors aren't accountants. They’re M.D.’s, not CPA’s. And many doctors went into the medical field precisely because of an aversion to math and finance. Different strokes for different folks, right? Why should a doctor worry about finances if they are an expert in internal medicine? Their patients don't come to them for financial advice–they come for medical advice!
But is it possible that doctors should be talking to their patients about money?
The Top Cause Of Stress In The U.S.
A quick Google search reveals a fact that is likely surprising to no one–finances are the top cause of stress in the United States.
Even for the most successful doctors, this fact probably rings very true. If you think back to your medical school years, you can probably recall the uneasiness in your stomach at the beginning of the semester when the rent was due, but the student loan money hadn't quite hit the bank account yet. And millions of other Americans are experiencing similar feelings of financial distress every day.
Still, you may be asking, what does this have to do with you? You're a medical doctor, not a budget doctor.
While that may be true, it turns out that the effects of medical struggles and financial struggles tend to have a bit of a crossover effect. Because health is comprised of the pillars of physical, mental, and financial health, when one pillar is faltering, the other two are affected.
And a concerning number of Americans’ financial pillars are faltering. Financial Health Network’s U.S. Financial Health Pulse 2020 Trends Report found that “a majority of people in America (67%) are not financially healthy.” This indicates that a substantial percentage of your patients are likely dealing with financial stress. A brief dig into the research reveals that financial stress can have severe ramifications on patients’ physical health.
The Impact of Financial Stress on Physical Health
To begin, the American Psychology Association has said that stress, in general, “affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.” This fact alone should make financial stress, the stress caused by the number one stressor in our nation, a concern for physicians everywhere.
However, the data displaying the impact of stress on physical health doesn’t end with one broad statement. A plethora of studies dive deep into financial stress’s impact on specific bodily functions.
For example, a 2018 study connected The Great Recession with major increases in blood glucose levels and blood pressure. Other research has shown that financial stress may increase inflammation. A strong association has also been found between over-indebtedness and poor sleep. Recent research out of South Africa found that “People who reported significant financial stress were 13 times more likely to have a heart attack than those who had minimal or no stress.”
But financial stress isn’t just impacting specific body functions like sleep, blood pressure, and heart function. It’s also more generally “predict[ing] adverse physical and mental health outcomes and mortality,” according to a 2015 study.
The data appears clear: financial stress is a major driver of physical health problems for patients.
How Can Doctors Help?
So what can you do?
Start with asking.
While doctors may not be qualified to offer financial advice, they will likely end up treating the symptoms of underlying financial stress every day. And for doctors seeking to prevent illness and hardship for patients, asking about financial stress, and stress generally, should become part of their routine.
Dr. Denishan Govender, the lead author of the aforementioned heart attack study, said:
“Few doctors ask about stress, depression, or anxiety during a general physical and this should become routine practice, like asking about smoking. Just as we provide advice on how to quit smoking, patients need information on how to fight stress.”
From the starting point of simply asking, doctors should prepare themselves to educate patients on the effects of financial stress on their bodies and minds. Doctors should also be prepared to refer patients to partner providers, such as therapists or counselors, who can begin to help patients confront the mental barriers that may be causing their financial anxieties. Finally, it may be wise for doctors to identify a few reputable financial professionals–preferably a non-investment professional, like a CPA, who won't try to sell anything to patients–to which they can refer patients for more technical financial advice.
Outside of referring patients to more specialized partners, doctors can use a holistic view of health to assist patients. Viewing each patient holistically, instead of through the narrow lens of a "medical patient," you can provide your patients a higher level of care. Getting to know your patient thoroughly–and not just their exercise regimen, diet plans, or propensity for illness–can help you identify your patients’ underlying pain points and explore treatment paths outside of directly treating the symptoms or referring them to a specialist. With a holistic view, physicians can "partner" with patients to treat the whole person, using all of the information at their disposal.
Reducing The Stress Of Patient Billing
Doctors can also factor patient payment collection into their holistic approach to treatment by offering patient-friendly means of payment. Medical bills are a source of financial stress for many patients and often the reason patients don’t pay them is not that they can’t but that they either (1) forgot, (2) got confused, or (3) needed a more flexible payment option.
But this doesn’t have to be true for your practice. By partnering with Peachy, you can offer your patients a fast, easy, and digital payment method. Peachy also enables your practice to provide easy-to-use payment plans and positive credit reporting to help patients build their credit.
You spend your days trying to make your patients healthier; why should you let your billing process destroy your hard work by adding stress to your patients’ lives? It’s obvious: you shouldn’t. Request a demo here, and get started on a path towards healthier patients and better collections.