The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated patients’ desire for more flexibility and convenience from their healthcare providers. This holds true not only for medical treatment; they also seek a better patient financial experience, from clarifying the cost of services upfront with their care team to finding ways to pay their bills.
The pandemic also came on the heels of a significant rise in high-deductible health-plan enrollment, and patients are increasingly burdened by higher out-of-pocket costs. And because they are paying more for their care, patients are more motivated to look for a new physician if they don’t receive the experience they expect from their current provider.
Here are four strategies that can help your healthcare organization provide a more positive patient financial experience that will meet changing expectations and help you retain patients.
1. Offer flexible payment options
Healthcare organizations interested in improving the patient financial experience should offer convenient ways for patients to pay their medical bills. Some patient-centered options include:
Mounting out-of-pocket costs mean that medical bills are higher than ever, and patients are less likely to be able to afford to pay in full. Among patients in health plans with the highest deductibles, 56% said they had less in savings than the amount of their deductible.
Payment plans offer patients the flexibility and choice that they need, as well as the privacy and automated installment payments that they want. Payment plans also can help increase collections for your practice—76% of patients who use payment plans say they will be able to pay off their medical bills on time.
Americans already pay more than half of their bills online, so why shouldn’t patients expect the same convenience from their healthcare provider? Online payments allow your patients to pay anytime from anywhere on any device. Healthcare organizations also benefit from that convenience through increased collections and greater patient satisfaction.
Credit Card on File
A credit-card-on-file program streamlines the payment process for your patients and your practice. By storing patients’ credit card numbers on a secure platform, your organization can charge patients an agreed-upon amount immediately following treatment or as part of an established monthly payment plan. Follow-up texts or emails notifying patients when a payment has been posted to their account keep them up to date on their card charges.
2. Improve financial transparency and communication
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than two-thirds of Americans worry about being able to afford surprise medical bills. To prevent this patient stressor and provide a more straightforward payment experience, your practice should avoid surprise billing and be more transparent about costs upfront. This could mean encouraging payment at the time of service through a card-on-file program and other flexible payment options or presenting copays and balances during intake.
In fact, 46% of patients say they would be more likely to pay a larger portion of their bill before their appointment or at the time of service if they received a cost estimate in advance.
Practice operations and revenue cycle management expert Elizabeth Woodcock explains that the perception that patients are reluctant to pay at the time of service is simply a myth.
“Patients are very open to paying at the time of service,” Woodcock says. “The key is to set that expectation and be upfront, transparent and respectful. To me, it’s more disrespectful to patients to say nothing about money and then subject them to aggressive collection practices later.”
By eliminating surprise billing, your practice will likely improve its cash flow and definitely offer your patients a financial experience that better meets their needs.
3. Allow patients to make mobile, contactless payments
Patients are looking for the ability to pay their medical bills on their mobile devices just as they do with their other bills—a recent report found that patient mobile payments have risen 63% overall since 2018.
And while mobile payments offer patients the convenience they seek, they also can help combat the spread of COVID-19. Mobile payments eliminate in-person interactions and allow patients to quickly pay their bills from their own devices at any time. To date, 30% of consumers have reported that they have used contactless payment methods to minimize their COVID-19 exposure. Further, contactless payments are here to stay. A 2020 research report found that 70% of consumers who were new to contactless payments reported that they will continue to use this payment method post-pandemic. Bottom line, the greater ease, flexibility and safety that mobile payments offer will enhance your patients’ financial experience with your practice now and after the COVID-19 crisis.
4. Eliminate awkward financial conversations with patients
Discussing payment with patients isn’t easy, and asking for owed balances face-to-face can be very awkward.
The answer: Leverage technology to eliminate those uncomfortable patient-staff interactions and provide a more streamlined and positive payment experience. For example, if patients digitally complete their intake, present them with their copay or owed balance amount during registration, and allow them to make that payment from the intake platform. This process is much simpler and more convenient for staff and patients compared to traditional in-person requests, phone calls and mailed bills.
At Retina Associates of Kentucky, Marisa Riding, the practice’s front-office manager, experienced that automated shift firsthand. The Lexington-based organization previously relied on face-to-face patient conversations to request payment. Once the practice switched to a more technology-based approach, Riding noticed that she and her staff were more efficient—and patients were more willing to pay their bills.
“Previously, I was spending at least an hour of my day talking with patients about their balances,” Riding says. “Now, if they do have a balance, they’re either paying it right away or calling us the day before (their appointment) because they noticed it during their pre-registration.”
As healthcare consumerism continues to grow, patients will increasingly expect a more positive overall experience with their provider, including their payment experience. These strategies will help you offer the convenient, flexible financial experience your patients want and better position your practice to meet their needs and retain them into the future.
Learn more about how Phreesia’s Patient Payment Solutions improve the patient financial experience and increase profitability.