Patient bill care: innovation in patients' financial experiences for better engagement

Patients are increasingly looking for retail-like experiences when it comes to healthcare, and that includes the bill pay experience.

Rather than just adding options for where or how to pay, some healthcare innovators are treating the financial experience as a critical quality element.

During the Becker's Hospital Review 7th Annual Health IT + Digital Health + RCM Annual Meeting, in a workshop sponsored by Zotec, Ed Gaines, vice president of regulatory affairs and industry liaison at Zotec, discussed trends in healthcare bill payment and shared insights into how health systems can adopt a "patient bill care" approach that enhances engagement and improves financial outcomes.

Four key takeaways were:

1. Against rising inflation and increasing costs, Americans are paying bigger healthcare bills than ever before. The increase in annual deductibles and premiums has far outpaced wage increases, requiring most families to pay larger chunks of their paychecks to meet basic healthcare needs. That can result in collection issues, necessitating that providers take a different approach. "The question is, how does your revenue cycle system adapt to this new environment in a way that's going to meet the patient where they are, rather than force the patient to interact with us the way we want them to interact?" Mr. Gaines asked.

2. Digital is the new normal. While consumer behavior has been changing, the pandemic made clear that digital engagement is critically important. According to a May 2020 Gartner survey on consumer pandemic attitudes and behaviors, the proportion of patients making or managing appointments online leapt from 5 percent to nearly 20 percent, and those who sought virtual help increased from 14 to 20 percent. 

Also, consumers expect to be able to pay bills online and expect the process to be simple and similar to other retail experiences. In fact, 75 percent of patients said they simply won't pay their bill if the process is confusing, according to Managed Healthcare Executive.

3. Patient satisfaction correlates to the patient financial experience. Data from a recent Patient Engagement HIT survey found that:

  • 96 percent of patients say financial experience is key to overall health plan member satisfaction.
  • Patients satisfied with their hospital billing are 5x more likely to recommend the facility to a friend.
  • 93 percent say the billing experience could dissuade them from returning to a healthcare provider.
  • 90 percent say a good patient financial experience is a deciding factor for returning.
  • 37 percent said poor patient-centered billing and payment confusion left them paying bills late and with a poor financial experience.

4. New innovations in patient bill care improve the patient payment experience. Those components are:

  • Anytime, anywhere and any way. Meet the patient where they are and allow them to pay how they prefer: via email, text, chat, phone calls or paper, just like other retail experiences.
  • Personalized and authentic. Make bill pay convenient while showing care and empathy by giving options. Keep in mind, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to communications.
  • Use innovative solutions to improve bad debt. With RCM automation, payment plans and technology like machine learning and artificial intelligence, providers can achieve better collection success. 
  • Trust for providers from compliance and security. Zotec has a firm focus on compliance and security, earning a HITRUST certification. "In our industry, we've had some major breaches. And we know that with 120 plus million patient encounters a year we're a huge target for the bad guy," Mr. Gaines said, noting that Zotec conducts the equivalent of a major financial audit to provide clients with the best security experience.

The best patient financial experience is an accurate, easy-to-understand, frictionless process. Focusing on creating an easy, personalized patient bill care experience can help optimize revenue collection, while giving patients an overall experience they'll love.

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