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An estimated 36 percent of people who currently receive patient statements in paper form would convert to electronic statements if the option were available.

Stage 2 of meaningful use is just around the corner. As a result, providers are looking for more ways to engage and empower patients. Patient portals and electronic patient communications, including electronic statements, are key to achieving Stage 2 meaningful use.

In the world of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), can electronic statements help providers get increasingly important patient payments faster? According to a recent Emdeon study, the answer is “yes.”

Patient Perceptions of Electronic Statements

Out of the 500 people surveyed,* 20 percent claim they already receive statements digitally. Of the 400 who currently receive paper statements, 60 percent said they would be interested in receiving their household’s medical bills electronically.

Security of delivery, instant access to current and past medical bills, multiple payment methods, and the ability to pay directly from an electronic bill were the most appealing aspects of digital statements. Respondents who were skeptical about converting from paper to electronic statements cited concerns about security, fear that a bill might be missed, and the desire to keep paper records, as opposed to electronic records, as barriers to converting to electronic statements. Based on this research, an estimated 36 percent of people who currently receive patient statements in paper form would convert to electronic statements if the option were available.

Improved Cash Flow for Providers

Forty-four percent of employers said they would only offer HDHPs in 2014. (Medical Cost Trend: Behind the Numbers 2014, PwCHealth, June 2013.) In addition, approximately 80 percent of the people who enrolled in health plans through the health insurance exchanges as of Dec. 31, 2013, selected either catastrophic, bronze, or silver plans, which have higher deductibles than gold or platinum plans. (Marketplace Enrollment by Metal Level, Kaiser Family Foundation.) Translation: The patient payment is more important than ever and anything that will help get the dollars in the door faster will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

Sixty-five percent of those who currently receive paper statements said they would pay an electronic statement faster than a paper statement. Here are just a few pieces of feedback received:

  • “[It’s] easier and more convenient to pay. No hassle with checks or no stamps and going to the post office.”
  • “I’m on my computer a lot. So it’d be easy to just log on to my email account and see it right there then pay it.”
  • “[I] would pay it as soon as I read the email unlike paper bills I tend to wait a while before mailing it back.”

Reduced days in accounts receivable and collecting patient payments faster top the list of reasons why it is advantageous for providers to offer electronic statements. Additional cost savings come from a reduction in material costs, a decrease in postage fees, and the fact that patients receive electronic statements in less time than paper statements, because there is no time lost in the mail.

A Competitive Advantage

The survey also explored possible changes in healthcare consumer behavior as a result of increased electronic communication. Thirty-two percent of the 241 potential users felt receiving their medical statement electronically would have improved their most recent healthcare experience. According to the 2013 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey, patient experience and satisfaction was the number one priority, with 54 percent of respondents listing it as one of their top three concerns for the upcoming year. (Fellows, J., “New Approaches to Patient Experience,” HealthLeaders Media, Aug. 13, 2013.)

The Pew Research Center claims one-in-five Internet users have consulted online reviews and rankings of healthcare service providers and treatments. Could the electronic transmission of patient statements become a point of differentiation? Possibly. One in four people surveyed said they would consider switching doctors for the option of having their statements delivered electronically.

Additional Opportunities for Electronic Communication

Both current and potential electronic statement users want the ability to link to appointment scheduling options from their digital bills. Both groups also want to be able to access patient portals from billing emails. Other desires include the ability to securely message the physician and access medical records online.

According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of Americans had access to the internet in May 2013. Also, as of September 2012, 72 percent of Internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year. (Health Fact Sheet, Pew Research Internet Project, Pew Research Center, 2014.) Seventy-seven percent of online health seekers used a search engine to begin their search; but what if the search began with information about patients’ health provided electronically from providers via private messages in portals? Could this ignite a change in behavior? It is something worth exploring.

Craig Hodges is senior vice president of patient billing and payment solutions, Emdeon, Nashville, Tenn.

*The electronic Healthcare Consumer Survey was deployed to 500 American healthcare consumers between the ages of 18 and 64 who have commercial insurance and have been responsible for at least two healthcare bills in the past year. The survey was sent by a third-party and was fully blinded. Questions focused on what they thought about current and desired electronic communications from healthcare providers.

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 07, 2014