Guest Column | March 8, 2018

Healthcare Is Catching Up To Modern Consumerism — Is Your Organization Ready?

Site Payments Still A Global Problem

Over the past decade, the patient payment experience in healthcare has changed drastically, often at the cost of the patient experience. If a patient was insured, going to the doctor meant paying a $20 to $50 copay, with the insurance company handling the rest. Providers had the option to then collect the copay or just as easily write off that $50.

Healthcare organizations didn’t have a meaningful reason to invest in enhancing the patient financial experience because patient copays were a minimal portion of the overall balance. At the time, they were investing heavily in IT tools that eased their transition into electronic medical records — a more pressing priority than copays.

But plan design models have changed, and healthcare costs have shifted. Even patients with employer-provided insurance have seen their out-of-pocket expenses increase by more than 50 percent in the past eight years. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that nearly 40 percent of healthcare consumers are on high-deductible plans. Patients want to minimize what’s taken from their paychecks, hoping they won’t have a medical emergency that leaves them struggling to pay their bills.

Visibility and transparency have become staples of the financial experience, especially when consumers can price-match and order virtually anything online. That includes healthcare — especially as consumers become responsible for a larger portion of their medical costs and providers find themselves unable to write off patient copays. Providers have to take measures to personalize the patient financial experience or risk losing consumers to the organizations that do.

Benefiting From A More Personal Financial Experience

Personalizing the financial experience for patients gives any healthcare organization a more competitive edge. It also generates consumer loyalty by offering a more enjoyable experience.

Healthcare providers often go to extraordinary measures to treat each patient as unique. But billing-related issues frequently muddle that positive experience. InstaMed’s 2016 Trends in Healthcare Payments report estimated that 75 percent of healthcare consumers admit to being confused by their medical bills.

The bill is the final piece of the personalization puzzle, and it’s often the last thing patients remember. Confusion around the bill can overshadow an otherwise successful experience and prevent patients from visiting again in the future.

Driving transparency and ease early in the billing process creates a better experience overall, and it promotes loyalty to the brand and healthcare provider. These three tips can help you successfully promote transparency:

1. Be Proactive In Providing Estimates: It’s difficult to think of a modern-day service or product that doesn’t have price transparency — except for healthcare. Healthcare services are rife with cost ambiguity and vagueness. If patients don’t know the cost of treatment prior to the rendering of services, they might start to look elsewhere for that transparency and visibility.

To avoid this, try providing a tool for patients to receive accurate estimates about their care before their visit. Healthcare consumers should be able to look up and compare the cost of treatments at different providers using websites, mobile applications, and smart devices. This will streamline the billing process and allow patients to make more informed decisions about their care.

2. Arrange For Flexible Payment Options: The likelihood of getting paid drops dramatically if payment is not collected while the patient is still at the clinic. And if you’re still sending paper statements to patients, the collection costs will just keep adding up. The problem is that many providers treat patients the same when it comes to collecting — they provide a bill for the full balance and expect it to be met.

Patients need personalized options to pay their medical bills, in addition to upfront cost transparency. Analyzing a patient’s financial situation and providing personalized payments can be easy with the right tools. It’s also a vital part of the experience. It can allow you to collect deposits, place patients on payment plans, and give them information about other financial aid opportunities.

3. Offer Real-Time Updates: Other industries keep consumers abreast of what’s happening after their purchase. Amazon and FedEx let customers track packages from door to door. A patient’s journey through the healthcare system can often be long, and transparent real-time updates are a major missing ingredient.

Cost estimates can change, and updating patients before the final bill arrives can help eliminate any surprises. Mobile apps with push notifications and web-based portals give patients 24/7 access to updates that affect their care. They can also alert patients to the authorization of tests, treatments, and payments.

Healthcare has been slow to catch up to modern-day consumer trends of transparent financial experiences. With patient payments now making up a larger portion of their revenue, healthcare providers have to catch up. Fortunately, with the right tools and technology, this process can be just as streamlined as the care they receive.

About The Author

Jason Considine joined Experian Health in 2008 and has held numerous roles including regional sales director, vice president of business development, and vice president of sales. In his current role as senior vice president, patient collections and engagement, he is responsible for managing the growth, product vision, and execution of Experian Health’s patient collection and engagement solutions. Prior to Experian Health, Considine held sales and business development leadership positions at WebMD, Emdeon, and Sage. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Christian University, is a member of HIMSS and HFMA, and is CRCR certified.