Some of the biggest - and often most unexpected expenses - arise out of needing medical care, whether your kid broke her foot while climbing a tree or your husband needs treatment for a long-term illness.
While the Affordable Care Act has offered more patients the opportunity to get health insurance to help cover these events, there are often still large out-of-pocket expenses with which to contend.
"One tool that I use personally to help take the sting out of large deduction is a healthcare savings accounts," says nurse and blogger Brittney Wilson. "This is a tax-free health savings account that is generally ran through an employer that allows you to put money aside for healthcare and decreases your taxable income in the process."
Brittney, aka The Nerdy Nurse, writes about everything from healthcare to social media on her site - though she is an especially passionate advocate of integrating technology into patient care.
Here, she tells us how she came to be the Nerdy Nurse, offers tips on how we can all be better patients and shares her thoughts on being better healthcare consumers. Read on:
Tell us about The Nerdy Nurse...when and why did you start your site?
The Nerdy Nurse is a blog that covers a variety of topics including healthcare, health, nursing, technology, parenting, social media and anything else that strikes my fancy. This means it's pretty much a lifestyle blog, my lifestyle, with all its nerdy goodness.
I started blogging in 2010 when I was being bullied at work by other nurses. I was looking for a means to cope with the stress and a way to share the information I was learning about lateral violence in nursing, and the blog was born.
Who should be visiting it?
TheNerdyNurse.com appeals to a wide variety of people including nurses, other healthcare workers, informatics professionals, parents, women and technology enthusiasts. There's a little something for everyone, but admittedly there's a little more for nurses.
How long have you been a nurse? Why are you passionate about it?
I've been a nurse for six years now and an informatics nurse for three. I really appreciate nursing because it allows me to help people overcome a difficult time in their lives and allows me to advocate for those who are unable to advocate for themselves.
My role as an informatics nurse is a little different because I do not deal directly with patients any longer. Instead, I work to help patients by helping the nurses who care for them. I am passionate about this because I see nurses every day who struggle with technology, and I get to show them how beneficial it can be to nurses and the patients they serve.
We see you have a new book out ... what spurred you to write The Nerdy Nurse's Guide to Technology? What's it about?
In my day job as an informatics nurse, I routinely encounter nurses who claim they are "no good with computers." Or nurses who are beyond frustrated with computerized charting. Often nurses are asked to comply with new charting standards without being given rationales for why or being involved in the implementation process.
I wrote The Nerdy Nurses Guide to Technology to give nurses an inside look on why electronic medical record (EMR) decisions are made and help nurses see value in technology. The book isn't all about what goes on inside hospital walls; instead, it's a general technology guide covering a pretty large area of subtopics including computers, tablets, smartphones, Google, the internet, social media, and many more topics too numerous to mention. The book is written in a conversational style, and in it I attempt to help nurses dip their toes into technology in the hopes that eventually they'll find real value in it and maybe even take the plunge themselves. It's fun, sometimes funny, and has loads of information and motivation.
Nursing is a career we often associate with people-oriented skills, but why do you think it's important for nurses to care about technology? How has technology helped you provide better patient care without losing that important human element?
The main reason that nurses need to care about technology is because it's not going away. Technology is slowly encroaching on every area of patient care, and soon enough you won't even be able to wash your hands without being digitally monitored. While some nurses may think innovations like hand-wash monitoring may be a bad thing, I personally believe that it ultimately improves patient care by reducing hospital-based infections.
Nurses can use technology today to improve patient care by taking advantage of many of the tools that hospitals are already providing. Many nurses have access to powerful smart pumps, but many don't take the time to program them correctly. If used correctly, they have built in safety features and alarms that will help nurses to provide better care. Also, healthcare organizations usually offer a large amount of online education modules that can help nurses better care for patients.
But my personal favorite is something that a nurse likely uses every day: smartphones. There are thousands of apps that nurses can use to supplement their nursing care. One of my personal favorite nursing apps is iTriage.
From a nurse's perspective, what's one way we can all be better patients?
Listen and take action. One of the most frustrating things that nurses encounter is noncompliant patients. This often occurs because many patients either don't listen or don't take action on the education they have been provided. Many nurses work very hard to make sure that patients have the tools they need to improve their health, but when patients refuse to act on that education, it can become bothersome.
Between your blog and your book, it looks as if you've found some successful means for bringing in extra money to your household. How were you able to turn something that started out as a hobby into something that's been financially beneficial?
When I first began blogging, I never intended to do it for money. I didn't think that's what I wanted out of it. But as time progressed, the offers for payment or writing, advertising, speaking and various other avenues just started pouring in. Every day my inbox would just be full of them. I thought about it long and hard, and I wondered if getting paid would somehow "cheapen" what I was doing, and I determined that my words provided value for someone and there was no shame in getting paid to do that. Nurses get paid to provide value to people's life every day, and I've never met a bedside nurse who was ashamed to take home a paycheck. Blogging as a nurse is no different.
I started blogging because I wanted to write about something I felt passionate about, and I started making money at blogging for the very same reason. Somewhere along the way, I started reading every blog monetization article I could find, and I slowly used that information to build my blog into a marketable platform. Most bloggers will tell you this isn't something that happens overnight, and my story is no different. It took about two years to see any real income from the blog, but it's grown substantially since then.
You're a self-described technology advocate. What technology do you use to help manage household finances, find savings, make extra cash, etc.?
I use a series of spreadsheets to manage my income and expenses for my blogging business. But for my day-to-day management of finances, including budgeting and expense tracking, I use Mint. I've been a huge fan of the app since I first discovered it, and my personal favorite feature is the ability to get a snapshot of where all my money is going. It reminds me quite often that we need to curb eating out and perhaps spend a little less on tech toys.
It seems as a society we're just now really starting to own our healthcare, including having greater awareness about how much it costs. What advice or tips would you offer to patients who want to be more savvy about paying for healthcare?
Use technology to your advantage. There are so many great websites and apps available to really help you get access to important healthcare information. Many insurance providers provide cost estimates for various procedures, and Hospital Compare is a government-sponsored website that allows you to compare hospitals side by side. With these two tools, you'll be able to compare the care you receive and the cost of that care, which can help a patient make better decisions about the locations they elect to have procedures performed.