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Epion Health

The Future of Healthcare Called: It’s Here, and Consumers are in Charge

Consumerization was a major healthcare trend before COVID-19, but the pandemic has clearly accelerated it. Given the continued higher use of telehealth services post-pandemic as well as recent news that consumer retail giants AmazonWalmart and even Dollar General are expanding their healthcare offerings, consumers are driving change. Retailers and other industries like banking and travel with strong consumer strategies understand how to appeal to consumers through convenience and simplicity, two qualities that healthcare (although improving) is lagging.

2020 healthcare consumer experience study found that finding, accessing and paying for healthcare in the United States is so difficult that half of consumers surveyed said they have avoided seeking care. The study also found that more than two-thirds of consumers said every step of the healthcare process is a chore, and that especially includes payment. Since the vast majority of healthcare is paid for by a third party – either the government or an employer-sponsored health plan – payment can be highly confusing for consumers who first receive an explanation of benefits form from their insurer and then an actual bill much later from their provider. Patients, however, want a much more consumerized experience. For example, according to a 2020 report, 82 percent of patients want to make their healthcare payments in one place, and more than half of patients would consider switching providers for a better payment experience.

It is no wonder, then, that patient payment collection continues to be a revenue cycle management (RCM) challenge for healthcare organizations. In fact, 63 percent of providers surveyed in the aforementioned study reported that it took over 30 days to collect after a patient encounter, and half said they couldn’t collect balances of $400 or more in 30 days. Meanwhile, 24 percent of medical group practices say patient self-pay is the biggest increase in their payer mix, second to more patients receiving Medicaid. A recent healthcare payments report also warns of a growing disconnect between consumers and providers that could harm organizations still recovering from the pandemic. 

Making Payment Less Painful

To improve collections and encourage patient engagement, providers can continue the contactless care trend that began during COVID-19 and be sure to include patient payment in that strategy. During the pandemic, about one-third of providers pivoted to contactless payment methods, but paper-based bills and manual processes for payment notifications and collections are still prevalent for the vast majority. Fortunately, according to survey results from late 2020, nearly one in seven (14 percent) of medical groups planned to add contactless payments – such as online payments – in 2021 to improve patient experience. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) planned to add a combination of telehealth, contactless payment and payment plans.

To remain competitive, providers should follow this example by offering a patient payment process that meets consumer demand while supporting the organization’s revenue cycle. Contactless payment options, particularly mobile payments, accomplish both and are one of the fastest-growing RCM management trends. 

The percentage of patient payments paid using mobile technologies increased 63 percent between July 2017 and the end of 2019, according to an athenahealth Research and Insights report from March 2020. Although driven by younger patients, the report, based on 158 million claims for 33 million patients, found that Baby Boomers and older patients increased their mobile payments by 75 percent between 2018 and 2019.

Payment in Hand

Using innovative mobile payment features can improve cash flow, decrease collection fees and reduce write-offs. Your software solution should have an integrated credit card reader and/or technology, such as OCR, to ensure payment is seamless.

Patients are also demanding transparency and should be able to review their co-pays and outstanding balances during check-in as well as set up a credit card on file for annual payment contracts, to cover co-insurance obligations or to make payments, all through their mobile device or desktop. Providers should be able to display a range of options from self-pay and pay later to minimum percentages required to complete the check-in process. 

By utilizing automation to remove the obstacles to payment and encouraging patients to use these methods, providers can follow the lead of consumer leaders in retail, banking and travel, reduce the burden to collect from patients and improve their organization’s overall financial performance. Check out our guide to the complete digital patient experience to learn how your practice can proactively be prepared for the future of healthcare.