Beyond the Bill: Enhancing the Patient Payments Experience 

Bill Smither

By Bill Smither, manager, CSG Forte Payment Systems

Annual healthcare spending in the U.S. tops $4 trillion, an unfathomable amount of money, and 25% of that is strictly administrative expenses. Patients and healthcare organizations alike are hard-pressed to keep track of every dollar in the midst of everything else the healthcare industry entails.

Between different forms of insurance, public and private regulations that can vary from state to state, and providers not all being at the same institution, things sometimes simply get lost. Additionally, like any other industry, the more money that’s spent, the more potential there is for pain points during the payment and billing process.

Often in healthcare, providers and patients alike have little to no control over the charges racking up, leading to outstanding balances and more potential for fraud and sketchy credit services.

In the healthcare space, it’s important to remember that when you’re engaging with a customer, you’re likely interacting with someone at a pivotal and vulnerable moment in their lives. Healthcare organizations don’t call the people making payments “customers,” they call them “patients,” and because of the multitude of situations patients find themselves in, the way they engage with payments is also varied.

One person may be a lifelong patient of the same primary care physician, but have only one brief, harried interaction with an urgent care doctor. They may see a specialist once only to be referred to a different specialist that they end up seeing for several years. In all situations, some sort of payment interaction will be required, and they all look a little different.

On top of the stress that comes with medical situations, processing payments can become a hassle for patients. Patient confusion is a key factor in why hospitals only receive a low number of patient payments.

They often don’t pay their medical bills because they are confused with how much they truly owe or do not know what payment options are available. In fact, 41% of adults in the U.S. have some type of healthcare debt, and 38% of adults put off medical treatment due to costs, adding a further burden to an already overwhelming situation.

In the chaos of the healthcare system, it’s easy for patients to feel out of control and like they’re getting lost in the shuffle. By personalizing their payments experience and working with them through a variety of difficult scenarios, you can give the patient a little bit of that control—and peace – back.

With that kind of peace, control, and smooth use, you can build long-term relationships with patients the same way you would with a customer in any other industry.

Three Main Considerations: Flexibility, Personalization, and Vulnerability

When it comes to the healthcare industry, patient journeys are more critical than in perhaps any other type of industry. In healthcare scenarios, it’s never easy to know what will come next, so having a flexible journey that is both proactive and personalized is key.

Because patients are not typical customers who deal with set purchasing hours, flexibility could be as simple as letting a patient pay in whatever way they’re most comfortable, or as complicated as having knowledgeable patient service representatives available even during off hours. The healthcare industry is 24/7/365, and there’s no way of planning when you might need to make a health-related “purchase.”

Personalization is also critical. There is nothing quite as deeply personal as dealing with one’s own health, and the patient payments experience should reflect that. A personal touch to each journey can include consistent communication, personalized billing, simple archived document processes, and more. For example, Boomers have shifted towards website payments using laptops or desktop computers, and Millennials and Gen Z prefer mobile payments or digital wallets.

That physical versus digital preference can also extend to the way patients prefer to receive their bill and bill reminders. If you aren’t catering to preferences, you’re making the payment experience unnecessarily difficult when there’s a simple solution. Moreover, patients should be able to switch between methods as needed or as their preferences change.

Even though Boomers may currently prefer paper billing and online payments, that could always change, and they should retain the option of personalization.

A patient moving through a healthcare experience might already feel vulnerable in many ways, and worrying about their payment and financial security shouldn’t be another added vulnerability. Too many healthcare institutions use antiquated systems that leave patients concerned about where exactly their financial data is going, and it may fall to the back of their minds in the wake of everything else they’re worrying about.

Payments should be fast, secure, and easily accessed, as well as being PCI and HIPAA compliant. Promising steadfast security upfront is the least a patient payment system could do, and it will go a long way to alleviate any potential concerns.

What all of these facets have in common is the goal of making what could be a tough situation easier, not harder, and making a patient feel both seen and heard. In a person’s scariest, most vulnerable, or just plain frustrating moment, the payment experience shouldn’t be another straw on the camel’s (or patient’s) back.

Payment journeys should be stress-free and mold to whatever the patient needs instead of the other way around, creating a better experience for patients and medical institutions.

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