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Health Consumers Want Digital Patient Payments from Providers

Sixty-eight percent of patients want digital patient payments in their clinician offices.

Consumers are demanding digital patient payments from healthcare payers and providers.

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Payers and providers should consider adopting digital patient payments to meet increasing consumer demand in healthcare, according to a recent InstaMed report.

The 2016 Trends in Healthcare Payments Annual Report surveyed thousands of consumers, payers, and providers to understand the role patients play in healthcare payments and the road forward for efficient collection of patient payments.

Consumer survey respondents overwhelmingly expressed interest in electronic bill pay, with 80 percent saying they wanted to digitally pay their healthcare payers over the internet. Sixty-eight percent of patients said they also wanted to pay their clinician offices using electronic tools.

However, this is not currently the reality for patients. Only 20 percent of patient respondents said they make any online healthcare payments, and 86 percent of patients receive paper medical bills.

It would behoove healthcare organizations and payers to consider digital payment strategies, the report authors recommended. Patients are paying more out of pocket for their healthcare, between increasing cost-sharing strategies and high deductible health plans. Per reports, 75 million patients were enrolled in a high deductible health plan in 2016, with the average deductible being $1,478.

READ MORE: Rising Out-of-Pocket Drug Costs Spur Patient Financial Woes

Industry experts are increasingly recognizing the consumerism embedded in the patient experience as a product of the growing investment patients must put into their own healthcare. As a result, healthcare organizations must deliver a higher quality experience, and also design their systems to resemble more of a retail experience.

“Many in the industry are slow to recognize the new role of consumers as an industry stakeholder,” the report noted. “When consumer demands are ignored, the consequences are severe – irreparable damage to an organization’s brand resulting in lost patients and members, and ultimately revenue.”

Part of that quality patient experience is meeting patient needs during the payment process, the report suggested.

“The data tells us that consumers do not view healthcare payments as different or distinct from payments they make in other industries,” the report said. “When surveyed, traits that consumers value closely align between commercial and healthcare industries. The traits include giving great customer service, delivering on expectations, making life easier and offering great value.”

Additionally, using paper payments poses a significant security threat, the report pointed out. Ninety percent of payer and provider respondents said payment security is a high priority, and 59 percent of patients said they have concerns about payment security. Using secure payment automation is one method for meeting security needs, the report recommended.

READ MORE: Top Strategies for Collecting Patient Financial Responsibility

Patients are also looking for transparency with regard to how much they owe both their payers and providers. Ninety-two percent of patients said they wanted to know how much they owe prior to a clinician visit.

Patients also wanted a simpler payment process. Seventy-four percent of patient respondents said they have been confused by explanation of benefits and medical bills, seeking clarity on which to pay and during what timeframe.

“Typically, consumers are only aware that they may have payment responsibility after they seek healthcare services when they are sent an explanation of benefits (EOB) by their health plan,” the report said.

Offering a more seamless payment experience is integral to building a positive brand in healthcare. Building brand loyalty will be key to high patient retention rates as consumerism continues as a major healthcare priority.

“The trends now delineate a clear correlation between the payment experience and a healthcare organization’s brand,” the report asserted. “For example, patients who are satisfied with billing are five times more likely to recommend the hospital.”

READ MORE: Top Challenges to Collecting Patient Financial Responsibility

Last year’s report showed a similar shift toward high patient financial responsibility. Seventy-four percent of clinician responders reported an increase in patient out-of-pocket payments since the year prior, and said that these payments pose a challenge to the revenue cycle.

Most providers anticipated collecting only 50 to 70 percent of a patient’s bill after an encounter, and 70 percent of providers said it takes about a month to receive payment from patients.

Authors pointed out that going paperless for patient bill collection may not only fulfill patient preferences but will also eliminate at least some bill payment issues.

“There is a clear connection between consumer preference and payment channels that promote convenience and simplicity,” the report authors said. “Electronic and automated payment channels will become the norm in healthcare payments, as they already are in other industries.”

“There are significant opportunities to reduce the waste of paper by harnessing the potential of electronic transactions, especially when leveraged with automation,” the authors concluded. “The potential cost savings and lower overall administrative resources could save the industry billions of dollars.”

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