Healthcare financial fitness is a game of inches. Every new healthcare billing technology made available to providers can move the needle incrementally, while ushering in new strategies for harnessing customer data.
As healthcare information technology (HIT) advances, sticking with older medical billing and patient engagement processes might still be cost-effective in the short-term. But those traditional processes are increasingly ill-suited to modern healthcare payment strategies. It’s not just an efficiency matter, either.
Hospitals are losing billions of dollars each year due to outdated tech, generally in the form of lost productivity and increased patient wait times. On top of that, 22 percent of patients receive two or more bills before even starting to pay, according to the 2020 U.S. Bank Healthcare Payments Insight Survey Report. Since the survey was conducted before the economic downturn, it’s safe to expect even more pressure on payments going forward.
How many bills do you typically receive before making a payment?
Still, the financial outlook for healthcare providers is rosier than it might seem, but only if new technological advancements are used to address industry problems. Let’s first look at why older healthcare billing and engagement processes could hold providers back.
From the patient point of view, it’s easier to process a single bill for all health services provided during an episode of care than several bills from different care providers. It’s even more challenging when adding in offsite consultations, lab work and duplicate statements from unpaid balances.
It all leaves the healthcare experience disjointed and inflexible. Patients become frustrated, which can affect the organizations’ reputation. Given that one-third of medical payments are for non-clinical products and services, choosing not to consolidate payment types on a single platform could further erode patient satisfaction.
Flexibility becomes the goal for this patient pain point. Modern payment technology can offer a unified system for processing all payments, medical and non-medical. It could also offer flexibility in payment methods, from cash and check to credit or debit cards, and ACH withdrawals.
One solution for simplifying the process involves using a card-on-file system or digital wallet to automatically collect patient payments for future expenses. “Patients could have a credit, debit or HSA card on file and set monthly maximums to pay their statements. E-check options should also be made available for those with a preference to pay directly from their checking or savings account(s),” says Jana Franks, senior vice president of healthcare payment solutions at U.S. Bank.
Regardless of the payment method or channel, reducing billing complexity and adding payment choices and channels greatly contributes to patient satisfaction. When patients receive multiple bills from various providers, they may need to ignore or delay payments while sorting everything out. Consolidating payments in one place – either through a provider portal or an insurance plan portal – improves the likelihood of getting paid faster.
According to Kaiser Health, medical debt is the largest reason why patients hear from collection agencies. Most of that debt remains unpaid, even after providers refer patient debt to collectors. What can providers do to ensure swifter resolution of patient financial responsibilities?
“Historically, patients waited to learn the amount due after receiving a myriad of billing statements from their healthcare provider and notices from their insurance company,” notes Franks. “Healthcare consumerism has changed all of that and patient’s expectations have changed too. Armed with more information on their care, and the accompanying financial responsibility, results in a better overall experience for both stakeholders in this equation.”
Patients want to know how much things may cost before receiving services. According to the 2020 U.S. Bank Healthcare Payments Insight Survey Report, 61 percent of consumers learn about their financial obligations either at or before visiting the provider. Still, 40 percent say they were surprised by a high medical bill in the past year.
Of course, open communication about the cost of services leads to important discussions about the patient’s ability to pay. Matching their questions with a flexible toolkit of payment options and channels can increase patient engagement, speed up payment, and decrease the drag of unpaid bills.
Whether it’s a co-payment for an office visit or the balance after health insurance covers a more complex procedure, providers should strive to discuss payments options. This is so they’re able to match the financial obligation with the right payment choice. This can be from a digital wallet to payment plans and financial assistance applications.
In addition, automated payment and remittance reconciliation have the potential to limit denial rates and improve cash flow, especially if they can identify the root causes of the denial and provide workflow automation to correct and resolve the denial in a timely fashion. Having complete and current patient data on-hand also helps to provide quality care from the beginning.
Much like the other services in a consumer’s life, every aspect of the patient experience contributes to their overall satisfaction. Even if patients have a positive experience from the care itself, they may lose confidence in their providers if the billing process is inaccurate, confusing or disjointed.
When modeling a consolidated patient communication strategy, consider these key goals:
Patients are demanding more flexibility and transparency in billing and engagement processes. This leaves older healthcare systems in need of a refresh.