In an increasingly digital world, consumers have more power than ever before. When choosing a healthcare provider, patients expect the same conveniences they find in the retail industry. Provider organizations that step up to meet the demands of highly mobile customers who have developed a preference for apps and smartphones will best equip themselves to realize long-term financial success, especially when it comes to patient billing and payment options.
Making It Easy for Patients to Pay
Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations unnecessarily complicate the bill-paying process for patients. A February 2017 survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics found that, although more than half of patients prefer an electronic billing option, 89 percent of providers still send paper statements through the mail. These providers therefore are wasting critical time and resources putting together statements that patients don’t even want, when they should be delivering more efficient electronic versions that make payment process more convenient and decrease the cost of patient collections.
Electronic patient statements are just one way that healthcare providers can better meet patients’ needs. Here are three additional best practices to consider.
Proactively offer cost estimates. As patients assume more of the cost of their health care, they expect greater transparency around cost information. Although the overwhelming majority of providers that responded to the aforementioned survey indicated they can offer cost estimates upon request, this information doesn’t always reach patients. In fact, only 24 percent of patients requested an estimate on their last visit and merely 16 percent received one without asking for it, demonstrating that providers aren’t sharing the information unless they are asked. And most patients don’t know they can ask.
Healthcare organizations have a prime opportunity to increase transparency by proactively sharing cost estimates. Patients who understand their payment responsibilities are more satisfied with their experience.
Provide convenient payment options. Patients want user-friendly and convenient payment options that mirror those of other, more consumer-focused industries—digital, automated, and cross-device. Such options could include offering online bill pay that doesn’t require a patient to set up a user name and password, and equipping the front office to process payments through the computer, thereby enabling staff to collect copayments, unpaid balances, unmet deductibles, and coinsurance from patients at the time of service or over the phone. Mobile solutions that allow patients to pay on the go and avoid confusing statements can be especially appealing to patients.
Organizations also should consider more flexible payment options. Not all patients can pay their balances in full with one payment, so offering them the opportunity to pay over time using an automated, structured payment plan will help them meet their responsibilities and increase the organization’s ability to collect payment. By using technology that automatically executes the payment plan, organizations can limit the expense of monthly statements and regular staff follow-up, simplifying the process for all involved.
Keep a credit card on file. This solution can help both patients and staff avoid hassle. Technology stores patients’ debit or credit card information more securely than paper records and keeps authorization on file so the organization can charge the card after determining patient financial responsibility. Patients authorize automatic bill payments to their cards and receive an email when a payment is about to be processed, noting the amount that will be charged. Patients don’t need to take action for the bill to be processed, allowing them to keep moving without stopping to authorize payment and allowing providers to collect in a timely manner.
According to the January 2017 study, nearly 80 percent of patients are willing to allow automatic payments on a credit card; however, only 20 percent of providers use that technology. Automatic credit card payments provide an opportunity for organizations to improve patient convenience and satisfaction while increasing cash flow.
Provide Solutions Patients Want
More than half of patients already use mobile apps and services to look up medical information and manage their health. It therefore stands to reason that patients will embrace technology-enabled billing and payment options. By implementing technology that makes it faster and easier to pay, a healthcare organization can improve patient satisfaction, streamline billing and payment processes for staff, and, ultimately, improve cash flow.
Jeff Wood is the vice president of product management at Navicure, Duluth, Ga. Twitter: @jeff_i_wood