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Screening for financial hardship: Comparing patient survey responses using two different screening tools

De Marchis EH, Fleegler EW, Cohen AJ, Tung EL, Clark CR, Ommerborn MJ, Lindau ST, Pantell M, Hessler D, Gottlieb LM
J Gen Intern Med

BACKGROUND: Healthcare delivery organizations are increasingly screening patients for social risks using tools that vary in content and length. OBJECTIVES: To compare two screening tools both containing questions related to financial hardship. DESIGN: Cross-sectional survey. PARTICIPANTS: Convenience sample of adult patients (n = 471) in three primary care clinics. MAIN MEASURES: Participants randomly assigned to self-complete either: (1) a screening tool developed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) consisting of six questions on financial hardship (housing stability, housing quality, food security, transportation security, utilities security); or (2) social and behavioral risk measures recommended by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), including one question on financial hardship (financial strain). We compared patient acceptability of screening, positive screening rates for financial hardship, patient interest in assistance, and self-rated health. RESULTS: Ninety-one percent of eligible/interested patients completed the relevant survey questions to be included in the study (N = 471/516). Patient acceptability was high for both tools, though more participants reported screening was appropriate when answering the CMS versus NAM questions (87% vs. 79%, p = 0.02). Of respondents completing the CMS tool, 57% (132/232) reported at least one type of financial hardship; on the NAM survey, 52% (125/239) reported financial hardship (p = 0.36). Nearly twice as many respondents indicated interest in assistance related to financial hardship after completing items on the CMS tool than on the NAM question (39% vs. 21%, p < 0.01). CONCLUSIONS: Patients reported high acceptability of both social risk assessment tools. While rates of positive screens for financial hardship were similar across the two measures, more patients indicated interest in assistance after answering questions about financial hardship on the CMS tool. This might be because the screening questions on the CMS tool help patients to appreciate the types of assistance related to financial hardship that may be available after screening. Future research should assess the validity and comparative validity of individual measures and measure sets. Tool selection should be based on setting and population served, screening goals, and resources available.

De Marchis EH, Fleegler EW, Cohen AJ, et al. Screening for financial hardship: comparing patient survey responses using two different screening tools. J Gen Intern Med. 2024;39(1):120-127. DOI:10.1007/s11606-023-08437-4. PMID: 37770732

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Publication year
Resource type
Peer Reviewed Research
Social Needs/ SDH
Health & Health Behaviors
Screening research
Social Determinant of Health
Economic Security
Housing Quality
Housing Stability
Study design
Other Study Design