The movement to mobile: Evolving patient experience methods in revenue cycle management

Within the last decade, healthcare has seen a steady increase in consumerism among patients, who are faced with a gamut of choices and decisions when it comes to the quality and price of their medical care. This trend is largely a product of new patient consumers "picking up the tab" with hefty out-of-pocket deductibles brought about by the Affordable Care Act.

Because healthcare reform has increased patient responsibility for payment, providers are seeking the best ways to directly engage patients and understand their behaviors to optimize collections. While there are many methods providers can use to simplify the payment process for patients, interacting with patients on their mobile devices is a proven payment driver among certain populations. One thing is clear, mobile phones are replacing the credit card in today's patient-consumer interactions, and paying bills has never been easier.

This content is sponsored by Zotec Partners

According to a recent study at Harvard University, the mobile phone is a strong contender as a key transforming agent in the future of health and healthcare. There are now more than 5.3 billion cell phone users around the globe, with 90 percent of the world's population covered by a commercial wireless signal. In other words, now there are channels to contact people who could not be reached before, extending the possibility to provide healthcare services to them outside of traditional facilities. The study goes on to say that, by providing patients and practitioners with the information they need, when and where they need it, both parties are able to make informed decisions regarding a gamut of health issues.

These changes in healthcare are fueling innovation with companies such as Zotec Partners (Zotec), a revenue cycle and practice management provider that has developed payment solutions to meet the evolving needs of healthcare payers, providers and their patients. According to T. Scott Law, founder and CEO of Zotec, the drive behind these changes is due in part to increased patient responsibilities and legislation surrounding high-deductible health plans, but also patient-consumer trends. Mr. Law suggests the desire among providers to improve their patient satisfaction ratings, decrease bad debt and gain an edge on the competition should create multiple traditional and non-traditional options to interact with patients, especially taking into consideration the electronic and mobile demands of today's patient-consumers.

The technology factor
Zotec is doing for healthcare payments what Google Wallet and Starbucks are doing for some consumers: creating a huge convenience factor by turning patients' mobile phones into a payment source. According to Mr. Law, technology is a key factor in creating patient experience methods, such as follow-up texting campaigns that will improve collections from HDHP patients. "Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and today's savvy patient-consumer is accustomed to having easy access to mobile tools to manage information anywhere, at any time," he says.

With mobile payment and text capabilities, patients are not only empowered and accountable to self-manage their balances, make payments or create payment plans, but they are also reminded of payment due dates. According to Mr. Law, it is ultimately important to make the payment process convenient, easy-to-understand and secure for the patient while also increasing collections for the provider. "Providers now have

an incredible opportunity to fully engage patients to make payments through multiple channels, especially given today's evolving technology and data mining capabilities," he notes.

He also adds a cautionary suggestion for providers, stating that mobile payment technologies may not be valuable if providers do not analyze their current and projected patient mix and gain a distinct understanding of patient behaviors. "If the upfront effort isn't there, then providers may see little to no improvement, especially if it's determined that mobile payments are not the most viable or desired payment option," says Mr. Law.

Interestingly, research from Fiserv suggests the average U.S. household uses three different bill payment methods each month, and their preferences for paying the same bill aren't always consistent on a month-to-month basis. For example, 42 percent of consumers will use a different payment channel one month than they did the month before to pay the same bill. This finding makes providers' understanding of patient behaviors even more critical as they seek to obtain payment for services rendered.

New responsibilities in RCM
Patients are becoming increasingly frustrated when navigating confusing healthcare payments, and therefore it makes sense to offer solutions within the revenue cycle, according to Mr. Law.

"For providers to expect payment from a healthcare encounter, they must give patients the same experiences they're getting when they make everyday consumer purchases," says Mr. Law. Adding to that, he says providers also have the ability to implement this process into their revenue cycle and gauge a patient's propensity to pay a bill, or on the flip side, complain about a bill and refuse payment. "On the patient side of the equation, Zotec has developed online and mobile billing tools that are better suited to today's increasingly retail-oriented healthcare payment environment. On the physician side, we are also able to use predictive analytics to determine patient tendencies ahead of time, in order to obtain a firm under- standing of who they are and what they like, or if they have a preference for mobile use, for instance."

The Institute of Healthcare Consumerism (IHC) shares this notion, stating, "There is a greater expectation for personalized experience in healthcare, and healthcare technologies that seek to know each patient, remember preferences and engage with them effectively, and via the communication channels they are used to in daily life, will be at the forefront of taking patient care to its next inevitable level." The IHC also suggests these patient experience technologies can ultimately lead to higher patient volumes, more revenue, increased profitability and an overall standard of care.

Mr. Law does caution providers against investing too much time and effort on collecting from patients that are predicted to pay, adding, "Providers need to know they are putting their efforts on the right patients, based on what is reflected in each patient's expected collection amount and his or her risk or propensity to complain. By giving patients the capacity to immediately pay their bills anytime and from anywhere, we ultimately give providers the ability to collect and post payments faster and more efficiently, without manual processing errors," he says.

Steeped in security 
In a recent Money Magazine article, a large provider of mobile payment services suggests that mobile payments are inherently more secure than using a plastic credit card because most mobile payments are conducted on phones that have GPS, stating, "With GPS capabilities, payment providers can determine who you are and whether the transaction is a legitimate one, with a lot of data around the transaction that can actually be utilized to protect people, as opposed to what isn't found on a plastic credit card."

This is good news for healthcare as well, says Mr. Law, who also keeps patient security and privacy at the forefront when considering mobile payment options for patients. "Compliance with regulations that protect consumers' privacy is a key component in patient-consumer communications, especially in regards to new mobile consumers and text messages, which are essential in today's communications efforts with patient consumers," he says. Mr. Law added that Zotec legally relies on the demographic information patients voluntarily provide to hospitals and providers to ensure it has patients' most up-to- date express consent for text messages, as an example.

"When it comes to patient interaction, we strive to ensure phone calls and text messages always comply with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the latest Federal Communications Commission regulations," he says. Zotec's follow-up protocols

to patients are made on behalf of its physician clients to collect payments, and only those patients that have provided prior express consent receive texts and phone calls.

While traditional payment methods are still necessary among healthcare's varying demographic populations, mobile payment transaction volumes and payment amounts are quickly in- creasing, and mobile use has skyrocketed. "Providers must step up to the plate and begin to offer patient consumers an easy mobile experience, but only if it sparks the patients' propensity to pay," Mr. Law says. He maintains that if providers want to see increases in collections from patients who continue to have rising patient responsibility, mobile efforts strategically combined with traditional ones often yield the best results.

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