Consumerism in healthcare: How providers are shifting their patient engagement strategies

Care quality is a key factor in shaping the patient experience, but the ease with which consumers handle their healthcare financial obligations plays an increasingly important role, too.

During an August Becker's Hospital Review webinar sponsored by HealthPay24, a patient payment and reconciliation solution, three healthcare experts with expertise in patient experience discussed why and how improving the patient financial experience can have a direct impact on patient engagement and satisfaction. Panelists were:

  • Mac Boyter, research director, KLAS
  • Melissa Sciba, customer success manager, HealthPay24 (Moderator)
  • Mark Starr, executive vice president, Curae

Four key takeaways were:

  1. Consumerism is a major factor driving patient engagement strategies. Helped by advances in technology, the retail, financial and other industries are shaping the consumer mindset and are elevating expectations. As this occurs, two of the main features consumers now expect from any service provider are convenience and simplicity — and the health sector is not exempt from those expectations. "In healthcare right now consumerism a big buzzword, but it's also a movement that's changing the reality of how care is delivered," Ms. Sciba said.

    For perspective, 60 percent of consumers expect their digital healthcare experience to mirror that of retail and 55 percent say they have used the web or smartphone apps to comparison shop for care. A rise in patient access, engagement and experience roles, along with broad recognition of the impact the patient financial experience has on the overall patient experience, suggests organizations are taking notice.

  2. New regulations and rising inflation are also impacting the patient experience. New legislation such as the Price Transparency Act, the No Surprises Act, the Medical Debt Reporting Rule and the Inflation Reduction Act are expected to improve the patient experience by limiting the negative impacts of healthcare costs on patients. Yet, at the same time, inflation and deferred care due to high out-of-pocket costs are reducing organizations' ability to deliver needed care and an exemplary patient experience.

    "Around 50 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. If you correlate that to the average deductible [$3,700 as of 2020], it doesn't sync up. So there's got to be mechanisms for folks to be able to satisfy those out-of-pocket expenses," Mr. Starr said.

  3. Business office interactions affect patients' likelihood to pay in full. According to a 2018 Connance survey, patients who are satisfied with their provider's billing and financial interactions are much more likely to pay their bill in full, compared to those who are dissatisfied. Creating a satisfying financial experience entails making bills easily understandable, matched to patients' ability to pay and payable online.

    In response, providers are increasing their online presence, providing upfront cost estimates and enabling more flexible options to pay and manage bills. "Providers are looking not just to say, 'How can we increase revenue? How can we deliver quality care?' but also, 'We want to be seen as innovative, we want to be seen in our community as helpful,'" Mr. Boyter said.

  4. Finding the right technology partners is key to modernizing the patient financial experience. To update their patient financing strategies and operations, providers need the right vendor partner that can bring conceptual solutions to life through technology. Priorities to guide making the right choices when selecting a technology partner are:

    - Investing in technology, such as automation, that can streamline labor-intensive processes and partially compensate for staffing shortages.

    - Paying attention to integrations, such as systems and workflow solutions that talk to each other. "Integrations and playing nice with others are really important when you're looking at vendors," Ms. Sciba said.

    - Developing the digital front door.

    - Focusing on pre-service by providing information about payment plans, loans and financial counseling rather than chasing bad debt and collections. 

 

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