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A strong patient financial engagement strategy will help providers collect more payments, improve staff efficiency, and create patient satisfaction with less friction throughout the consumer journey. Here are four ways healthcare organizations can improve patient financial engagement by using personalization, automation and digital technology.

1. Accept All Types of Digital Payments

The COVID-19 pandemic heightened the demand for contactless interactions, with more consumers moving to online channels and digital technologies. In healthcare, virtual connections such as telehealth were a lifeline for people who needed medical care during the height of the pandemic. Most consumers want to maintain these digital options. Data shows that 83% of consumers want to continue using virtual and self-service options that were offered due to the pandemic.1 And they expect them everywhere, including in healthcare.

Many consumers turned to digital payment platforms during the pandemic for both safety and convenience. Today, instead of paper-based payment options like cash and checks, patients prefer credit/debit cards and digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay. They want to pay online with their phone or other mobile devices, and they are willing to download apps and create online accounts to access digital payment options. In fact, 85% of millennials say they would download and use a mobile app for medical bills.2

Clearly, most consumers want electronic payment options that make it easier to pay their healthcare bills. Enabling these options leads to stronger patient financial engagement.

How to Implement Digital Payments

The most effective way to enable digital payments is to make them available at every interaction point throughout the patient journey. If for instance, you offer a mobile check-in that is followed by a paper bill, it becomes an inconsistent experience, which can affect patient satisfaction.

Here are a few guidelines for implementing digital payments across your organization.

  • Accept all electronic payment options: There is no one-size-fits-all payment solution. Different patients have different preferences. You’ll want to accept all payment options so that you do not exclude patients, such as those who may prefer to use Apple Pay or an HSA debit card.
  • Enable any payment channel: Like payment methods, patients have preferences for where they want to pay. Some patients like to pay bills and expenses via their bank’s online bill pay portal. Some patients may put more trust in their health plan’s online member portal to pay their medical bills. You must consider how you can enable all the various consumer-driven channels, in a way that is safe and secure.
  • Use electronic communications:  Electronic communication methods support the adoption of digital payment options. eStatements will encourage patients to make online payments and this helps you to reduce print and mail costs. Email and text notifications are more efficient and cost-effective than phone calls, and they can prompt patients to pay with a link to your online payment portal. You can also deliver electronic payment receipts and refunds for an even fuller digital experience.
  • Consider healthcare-specific partners: The healthcare industry has unique attributes that make payments and reconciliation complex. It is important to consider these complexities when enabling new payment channels. You’ll want to expand payment options without creating an operational burden for your staff and will want to ensure you maintain proper security and compliance. That’s why it is to your advantage to evaluate healthcare-specific payment vendors when developing your digital payments strategy.

2. Implement Automation

Digital payments are designed to be automated. Here are a few ways to use automation to enhance your healthcare revenue cycle operations.

  • Reduce staff time and effort to collect: Use technology to automate many of the manual tasks your revenue cycle staff performs, including posting and reconciliation, patient communications and patient billing.
  • Achieve payment assurance and get payments faster: Set up automated payments for recurring payments and payment plans to help ensure you receive those payments on time.
  • Create patient satisfaction and stickiness: Make it easy for patients to pay future balances with saved payment methods. This eliminates the need to write and mail checks and can help relieve the stress your patients may feel about having to remember to make a required payment.

Automate Across the Patient Journey

To facilitate automated payments you’ll want to collect payment information from patients and store it in a secure online digital wallet. To gain the best traction, prompt patients to save their payment information throughout the healthcare journey. You can do this pre-service through digital outreach or with staff phone calls, and in-person at the time of service. Post-service, you can ask patients to create an online account and save payment info for future use, with messaging on billing statements and via the online user flow.

When patients have large balances, you can help reduce the burden of this financial responsibility by offering payment plans, and then use saved payment information to collect the installments automatically.

Automation can increase administrative efficiency, especially when you integrate payments into your EHR or practice management system so that payments automatically post and reconcile without staff involvement. If you collect patient contact information like email address and mobile phone number, you can enable automated email and text communications. You can take automation even further by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver notifications at the optimal time for each patient.

3. Personalize the Payment Experience

Personalized, consumer-centric payment experiences make it easy for patients to pay what they can afford with their preferred payment method via their preferred payment channel can increase payments and help providers get paid faster.

What Can You Personalize?

  • Payment plans: Healthcare is expensive, and costs continue to rise. Payment plans give patients more flexibility in how they pay off large balances. You can improve the financial experience by personalizing the payment amounts and term lengths for each patient.

    While a credit check is one way to personalize payment plans based on a patient’s propensity to pay, it can be invasive to the patient and is costly to the provider. For a better option, use advanced AI technologies that apply patient demographic data and other data sources to determine the best payment plan for each patient.
  • Patient statements: Personalize statement messaging based on patient demographic information and preferences. If you know which patients prefer online payments make sure to promote that payment option on their statements. For patients that do not speak English, send statements that are in their native language.
  • Communication methods: Give patients options for how you communicate with them about their bills and payments. Texting is becoming a much more popular communication channel for consumers, so be sure to enable this option.

Finally, collect as much patient data as possible. The more you understand your patients’ behaviors and preferences, the more you can personalize their experiences.

4. Deliver Consolidated Billing Statements

When a patient has a healthcare visit, he or she will likely view it just one visit. However, it’s common for patients to receive multiple bills for various services rendered during a single encounter. Many patients do not understand where the different charges come from, or why they have received more than one bill. In fact, 73% of consumers say they are confused by their medical bills.3

While healthcare payments are complex, the patient-facing experience does not have to be. Instead of sending multiple bills for the different services rendered during a healthcare encounter, consolidate all charges onto one easy to understand statement. Do this across all departments and locations at your healthcare organization.

You can consolidate bills across family members, too. For example, send one bill for services rendered to both a dependent and their guarantor, even if the visits were on different dates. This helps to streamline collections, because there is only one bill to manage and the charges can all be paid in one place.

Be careful to ensure you do not disrupt existing workflows. Funds should still deposit to the designated bank accounts, and payments should continue to post to the correct EHR/PMS. You’ll want to work with a vendor who can consolidate billing without disturbing other elements of your operations.

Beyond helping business processes, consolidation can improve your brand presence and recognition. Your patients will see your healthcare organization as one business that delivers easy and convenient payment options.

1 InstaMed Consumer Healthcare Payments Survey, 2021
2 InstaMed Consumer Healthcare Payments Survey, 2021

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