At InstaMed, we talk to providers every day about simplifying healthcare payments, and we’ve heard plenty of feedback about how patients want to pay their healthcare bills. We also talk to consumers to understand what they want from their healthcare payments experience. It turns out that regardless of organization size or region, there are a lot of misconceptions about patient payment and billing preferences.
The challenge is that overcoming these misconceptions often means change for a healthcare organization, which can be a daunting proposition. However, ignoring your patients’ preferences for the sake of maintaining the status quo can lead to repercussions in the long-run. If your front and back office staff are spending significant time with manual processes and it seems like that’s working, it’s time to reevaluate the way you manage patient payments at your organization.
Here are three common misconceptions about the way your patient population prefers to pay, and how you and your staff can adjust.
- Our Baby-Boomer Patients Still Like to Pay by Check
If you have a large faction of baby-boomers in your patient population, you may be reluctant to adopt online payment options because you assume this group only wants to deal with paper and pay by check. It’s true that there are some patients who will always want to pay only by check. However, adoption of online payments is more pervasive than you might think. For example, 88 percent of people under 40 pay their monthly household bills online, while 78 percent of people over 40 pay their monthly bills online (Seventh Annual Trends in Healthcare Payments Report), showing there is no significant difference between generations for online payments. It turns out the same principle holds true in healthcare, as 73 percent of people under 40 prefer to make a payment for their medical bill online, while 52 percent of people over 40 prefer online payments in healthcare. (Seventh Annual Trends in Healthcare Payments Report)Additionally, baby-boomers (and patients of all age groups) who are making payments online are doing so with the mobile devices they have at their fingertips. Mobile device usage is ubiquitous across age ranges: 92 percent of consumers aged 18-29, 88 percent of consumers aged 33-49, 74 percent of consumers aged 50-64 and 42 percent of consumers aged 65+ own smartphones. (Pew Research Center)
Consumers of all ages are turning to online payment options because they are easy and convenient to manage. The good news is that online payments are equally simple for billing staff. Think about the time and costs it takes to process check payments, such as the manual steps to post checks and the hard costs of a lock box. When patients pay online, payments post automatically into your organization’s source system, and funds are deposited directly into your bank account. What could you do with the time and costs now available thanks to online payments?
- It’s Too Hard to Collect From Our Patients With HDHPs, So We’d Rather Outsource the Collection of High Balances
75 million Americans are enrolled in high deductible health plans, so proactively measuring propensity to pay and outsourcing the collection of large balances is a plausible way to save your staff some time. However, you’re wasting a ton of money based mostly on the assumption that these patients won’t pay their responsibility. Before you make assumptions, first consider the reasons why patients might be confused or unlikely to pay. Are they surprised by their high bill? Do they have flexible options to pay their bill over time? You can bring payment into your conversations before patients are blindsided by a high bill. First, check eligibility to determine if a patient has a high deductible health plan. Then, clearly communicate payment responsibility by using an estimator tool to deliver patients an accurate estimate of what they will owe and begin discussing payment options right away. If talking about payment is something new for your staff, make sure you give them the proper tools and training to be comfortable and confident during these discussions. Ask patients to keep a payment method on file so your staff can automatically collect payment responsibility after claims are adjudicated. Finally, make sure patients know they have options – set up a payment plan with a reasonable minimum monthly payment to help patients pay off large balances over time. Set up email or text notifications for payment due dates, so patients feel like they’re in control. By clearly communicating payment responsibility and giving patients options, you will address the root causes of unpaid balances and empower the patients who are willing to pay to actually have control over their healthcare payments.
- Our Patients Are Still Going to Call the Office Regardless of Whatever Self-Service Options We Give Them
This is an objection we hear a lot. Providers think that even if they offer self-service tools, they’re still going to get high call volume from patients. In that case, it seems unnecessary to bother with technology and instead just stick with what the staff already know. This misconception could actually be true if you don’t consider that new technology requires a process change as well. Giving patients self-service options won’t reduce call center volume if patients don’t know about or understand their payment options. If you educate patients upfront, there will be less confusion when the bill comes. Consider three simple steps you can take before patients receive a bill that can help reduce inbound call volume. You can give patients the option to enroll in eStatements, so balance information comes directly to their inboxes and they can easily access your patient portal via a link and make a payment in a few easy clicks. You can also enable patients to set up a digital wallet through your patient portal to store a payment method on file for a payment experience like Amazon. Finally, this is another example where text message notifications are a useful communication method. If you set up text message notifications, you can automatically reach patients via text before they even need to call your office. We’ve talked to providers who have reduced their call volume by putting in place process changes along with self-service tools.
Want to learn more about patient payment preferences, and other trends in the healthcare payments industry? Download your copy of the Seventh Annual Trends in Healthcare Payments Report.