As patients continue to assume more responsibility for healthcare payments through higher deductibles and increasing co-pays, it is becoming more important to consider their needs as consumers. Yet while new healthcare technology can help streamline an organization’s payment process, the tech itself is only part of that change. It’s just as important to train your staff on modern healthcare payment system best practices to elevate the patient experience.
The 2020 Healthcare Payments Insight Survey Report identified the opportunity for improvement. Despite years of advances in billing systems, 70 percent of respondents singled-out healthcare as the industry that makes payments hardest for consumers. Since 22 percent admit they delay paying medical bills for two months or more, the opportunity to speed up payments cycles by improving the payment experience seems clear.
Which industry makes payment hardest for consumers?
For years, health systems were used to treating first and billing later, which inevitably resulted in patient confusion and unpaid balances. Clearly, breaking that cycle with streamlined systems and improved communication provides an opportunity to improve patient satisfaction and provider revenue.
Modern payment processing technology can provide information on eligibility and cost estimates up front, giving the patient valuable insights prior to service. Jana Franks, senior vice president for healthcare business at U.S. Bank Payment Services, notes that “if expectations about payment and available payment options are not being communicated up front, the odds of collecting will likely decrease.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital and Clinics (UW Health) addressed these issues by consolidating its clinical and non-clinical payments on a single interface and training staff on the communication required to maximize the benefits of its modernized payment system.
UW Health initially had multiple systems in place to deal with varying payment methods. Cards, checks, cash, online payments, mobile payments and lockboxes were managed independently — putting a massive strain on their finance teams. Patients valued the flexibility in payment options, but without a consolidated system and unified standards for processing payments, the finance team spent too much time managing each disparate system.
The UW Health team worked to integrate a unified, consolidated system for processing both clinical and non-clinical payments on campus. A single interface provided consistency in design, allowed patients to complete their transactions more efficiently, reduced calls to customer service and built goodwill for UW Health among its patients.
The single interface also benefitted UW Health staff by allowing them to train with just one standard system.
For UW Health, the next step in modernizing their payment processes meant training staff to ask for payment up front. The longstanding practice in healthcare of treating first and billing later has left many hospitals struggling to recoup patient costs. UW Health sought to break that mindset and change old cultural norms.
Still, value-conscious patients increasingly want and expect cost transparency, especially in the era when 67 percent say they worry they won’t be able to afford a surprise medical bill. Within the past year, 61 percent of consumers received a price quote prior to receiving medical service, and 50 percent were asked for a prepayment or co-pay at that time.
Providers can train their staff to explain this upfront billing process in various ways.
When healthcare organizations can accurately (and compassionately) convey financial obligations early, they reduce the concern about surprise bills and risk of neglected payments later.
Patient communication is critical to timely payments and high satisfaction rates throughout the payment cycle. Without the tools in place to provide a consistent forum for patient feedback and questions, providers risk alienating their patients once the final bill comes due.
Here are some methods providers can use to increase available touchpoints during the payment cycle.
In addition to improving patient engagement, expanding touchpoints offers patients more self-serve options that reduce the need for on-premise interaction with staff and payment devices – alleviating concerns about germ transfer.
These changes don’t happen overnight, but they are crucial to long-term success in the healthcare payments space. Even a partial process of consolidation and standardization can help healthcare organizations meet new customer demands, and that’s where we aim to help.