By Joe McMurray, senior vice president of patient experience, Zotec Partners.
A July 2022 report confirmed what most providers have seen coming during this time of rampant inflation: Unexpected healthcare costs can be crippling for the majority of Americans. Many factors have influenced this fact, including rising high-deductible plans, ongoing pandemic stress, and the general truth that patients are often sick, scared, or confused — or a mix of all three. This strain poses many challenges for healthcare providers and their revenue cycle teams, highlighting the importance of patient-centric financial experiences.
Calculating cost estimates on unexpected medical encounters is a very challenging process, and if done so inaccurately, it can push patients to switch medical providers. According to PYMNTS, 46% of unwell patients have canceled an appointment because of high cost estimates, and two-fifths of patients who received inaccurate cost estimates spent more on healthcare than they could afford. Healthcare providers and organizations have seen drastic reductions in payment as a result.
Understanding Why Patients Don’t Pay
According to research by Debt.com, 45% of Americans have outstanding medical debt. Some reasons why patients can’t pay their debts includes financial hardship (which can be from job loss), murky healthcare billing systems, unexpected billings (especially during the holidays), and ambiguities with insurance. Inflation isn’t helping the situation, with almost 60% of people forgoing healthcare due to higher living expenses across the board.
Unpaid medical bills and their resulting medical debt are typically the outcomes of a combination of factors. First and foremost are unexpected healthcare costs, which is precisely what it sounds like: unplanned and unbudgeted medical expenses. The continued hike in high deductible plans and increased out-of-pocket expenses has also hit healthcare consumers’ wallets.
Additionally, uncertainty around billing is an issue for patients who need clarification on their responsibilities, billing due dates, or even which providers they saw during their encounters. Finally, technology can be a barrier to patient payments. When patients can’t access, understand, or act quickly on their bills, they are less likely to make a payment or pay in full.
Improving the Financial Experience for Patients
Health systems and clinicians shape patient care experiences, which can unfortunately lead to medical debt and devastating consequences in certain circumstances. So, what can healthcare providers do to alleviate these financial pressures for patients and set them up for success beyond diagnosis and treatment?
The first and most obvious response is to get the bill covered by the carrier prior to sending it to the patient. With advanced technology partners, this is a goal that should and can be explored. However, if there is still a patient portion, the following four steps will enhance the experience for all:
• Patient Education and Awareness
Healthcare organizations can help individuals make educated decisions about how to plan and pay for their care. Enhancing medical billing transparency means ensuring patients are aware of out-of-pocket expenses, including cost-of-care discussions in provider-patient interactions.
With the federal No Surprises Act in effect, patients now have increased transparency into what scheduled medical encounters cost. However, these estimates can only be accurate if no unplanned medical care or treatment is needed during service. By communicating up front with patients about additional costs, they will be more empowered when making healthcare decisions.
Once a patient receives a bill, it should be accurate, easy to understand, and convenient for them to take action.
• Payment Choices and Flexibility
Healthcare organizations can help patients with medical expenses by expanding, simplifying, and innovating payment options and plans. Offering more ways to pay based on patients’ preferences is essential, as is giving patients more time and flexibility. No two patients are alike, and based on their propensity to pay, providers can offer patients customized communications that offer payments through paper, phone, text, email, or portal access.
Offering payment plans is a proven way to increase collection rates. Patients who are offered additional time, even if it’s just a few weeks more, are more likely to make payments or pay their bills in full, reducing likelihood of medical debt. By adding a few more weeks to the billing cycle, providers can offer patients a more dignified and effective way to pay for services at a time most suitable for their financial situations.
• Compassionate Care Continuum
Healthcare expenses are a source of anxiety for many patients. Intimidating collection steps won’t do them any good, but a more compassionate billing approach could help increase patient payments.
Team members should utilize compassionate language as they guide patients through their journeys. When patients are confused, they should be met with a responsive contact center that leads with empathy and understanding. After all, calm patients feel more confident in their billing and are increasingly more vested in paying for the services rendered.
• Simple and Streamlined Technology
Providers should implement portals that make it easy for patients to pay bills, schedule appointments, review payment plans, and share feedback. Empowering patients with a self-service option enables greater transparency and customized experiences — all leading to higher payment capture.
By developing an extensive and dynamic patient journey by persona, organizations can customize communications by patient demographics and propensity-to-pay. This allows them to use the most innovative, intelligent means to request and receive payment. If providers don’t have a portal that meets these criteria, there are technology-enabled revenue cycle services partners that can further enhance the patient experience.
No two patients have the same pain points when it comes to medical expenses. And considering the economic landscape evolves daily, healthcare needs to be ready to adjust accordingly. Providers need to find flexible and intuitive ways to connect with patients and offer a variety of payment options to engage compassionately throughout the entire healthcare journey.
Healthcare continues to change and evolve as time goes on. It’s essential that with the advancements in technology that doctors, hospitals, and medical practices alike keep up.
Your top priority as a provider should be your patients and their overall experience working with you. In a digital era, this can be a tough transition if you’re set in your old ways and not online. If you want to provide the ultimate care and earn respect in the industry then you must embrace technology. Learn four ways to optimize the digital patient experience in healthcare.
Launching amobile-friendly website is one way to optimize the digital patient experience in healthcare. Make sure that it’s easy to access and read on a mobile device. Include all pertinent information and ensure that your patients don’t become frustrated or confused when viewing your site on a phone or tablet. Also, you may want to consider sending out reminders via text message and giving patients the ability to schedule appointments online through your website. Your patients will appreciate being able to hop online and make an appointment instead of having to wait on hold on the phone.
By Chris Evanguelidi, director, enterprise healthcare market, Redpoint Global.
In a new survey of more than 1,000 U.S. healthcare consumers conducted by Dynata and commissioned by Redpoint Global, more than 80% of respondents said that they prefer to use digital channels (online messaging, virtual appointments, texts, etc.) to communicate with healthcare providers and brands at least some of the time, and 40% prefer digital communications most of the time.
Along with digital-first communications and experiences becoming a standard expectation, consumers are also on record that they want their providers to display a deep, personal understanding across the full spectrum of engagement touchpoints and channels. In the survey, 60% of consumers said they would choose a provider based on how well the provider understands them, beyond patient data, so that the experience is relevant and personalized. Beyond patient data means that a provider has a single view of the healthcare consumer, to include clinical and claims data, consumer and social determinants of health (SDOH) data such as economic stability, access to health care, etc.
Furthermore, 66% said the selection of a provider was dependent on the provider’s ability to communicate in a timely and consistent manner.
Examples of the depth of understanding that patients now expect – and that are also indicative of the digital-first mindset – are a provider’s ability to proactively contact patients at the right time and in the right context (e.g., via text, email or online portal). Nearly half (44%) of respondents expressed that this ability is now the expectation. And 36% said they expect communications from their provider to match their in-person experiences in terms of relevancy, consistency and outcomes.
In a recent Harris Poll survey about marketer and consumer perceptions about customer experiences across various industries, consumers consistently ranked healthcare third (behind retail and financial services) in terms of providing a consistent experience that demonstrates a thorough understanding of the customer. Yet when consumers were asked which industry should provide the most consistent experience that demonstrates a thorough understanding, healthcare polled first.
In 2020, healthcare providers quickly implemented new solutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, providers evaluated their ongoing needs and optimized their patient engagement and operational processes.
As we enter a new year, the pandemic and its effects continue to influence the healthcare landscape. The consumerism of healthcare continues to drive the deployment of virtual care technology and paperless solutions, as providers focus on increasing patient engagement. At the same time, providers continue to experience challenges with revenue loss and burnout, placing strain on both budgets and staff alike.
As a result, some of the biggest priorities for healthcare providers in 2022 will revolve around how they can best engage patients without burdening staff. Healthcare technology will rise to meet the challenge, supporting providers with solutions to help them increase efficiency, streamline operations and continuously improve the patient experience while reducing time spent on administrative tasks. Read on for three healthcare technology trends we can expect to see in 2022.
Telehealth Will Grow As Hybrid Care Models Develop
However, in-person appointments are still important and even a preferred option for many patients—in a recent poll by NPR, Harvard University, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, while 82% of respondent households that used telehealth reported being satisfied with it, 64% of households that have used telehealth said they would have preferred an in-person visit over telehealth in their last visit with their provider.
By Travis Schneider, co-founder & co-CEO, PatientPop.
Developing a top-tier practice requires doctors to be more than great practitioners. If you do not have a loyal patient base and a positive reputation, you will only be facing an uphill battle in your path to success.
Your ability to attract and retain patients will depend on how well you and your staff understand your patients’ needs, especially with patients having more choices for healthcare than they ever have. Healthcare practices may feel the same pressures that brick-and-mortar retailers face now. Look no further than Walmart’s Health Center Program and Amazon Care to see what the future portends.
To gain attention and stay competitive, you will need to position your practice as a top-of-mind option for prospective patients. At PatientPop, we regularly survey patients to identify what they care about most concerning their healthcare experiences. Our 2021 Patient Perspective Survey results underscore the obvious: All private practices must consider patient feedback and nurture patient relationships to attain meaningful and consistent growth.
Fortunately, the blueprint for achieving this is straightforward. With the right technology and workflows in place, you can respond to patient feedback and deliver personalized patient experiences in a way that sets your practice up for success.
Cover Website Fundamentals and Claim Your Online Profiles
Today’s patients will turn to the Internet first when researching a physician’s capabilities and reputation. Our survey found that 74.5% of patients have done just this while looking for care or selecting a primary care physician or specialist. Therefore, your practice needs to have the proper online marketing fundamentals to capitalize on this trend. This process starts with tailoring your website and marketing channels to satisfy your ideal patients’ needs.
First, refine and optimize your website to ensure it is user-friendly and mobile-ready. To see where your website currently stands and uncover other improvement opportunities, PatientPop has created a “competitive scanner” that any practice can use to determine their online performance in their market, compared to others in their specialty. Within moments, the scanner offers a closer look at your Google rank, online reputation, overall web presence, as well as your website’s speed, searchability, and more. You can use your report as inspiration to make changes to improve your digital footprint and searchability.
Once you are comfortable with your website’s appearance and performance, optimizing your site to engage with prospective patients using Google is essential. The search engine giant currently owns an 88% market share of the online search sector, and we have found that it remains the search engine of choice for patients seeking new providers.
By Noel Felipe, revenue cycle practice leader, Firstsource.
The pandemic has created a sense of urgency around improving patient engagement. Consumers accustomed to Amazon-like retail experiences are now embracing digital across personal transactions, including healthcare. Telehealth and remote monitoring have gained rapid traction, especially for non-emergent conditions and follow-up. At the same time, outpatient visits are rapidly outpacing inpatient. Together, these two trends are resulting in patients spending very little time at hospitals receiving care and paying bills.
With more care delivered through outpatient and virtual settings, healthcare leaders are asking: how do we effectively engage patients to optimize the patient financial experience and enhance recovery?
The answer lies in understanding shifting consumer expectations and designing a patient engagement solution that best fits their evolving needs.
What do modern consumers expect?
As robo calls continue to rise, Americans are using their smartphones to screen calls, making it harder for providers to connect with patients after service. Studies show that the chance of collecting goes down by 58% once patients leave the facility, as they are less motivated to pay once the services have been rendered. This means providers must begin the patient engagement process early in the revenue cycle at the pre-service stage and maintain high levels of engagement during and after service to improve their net revenue.
The good news is consumers increasingly prefer digital channels of communication that offer the flexibility to engage with providers outside traditional business hours and in the privacy of their homes. They also want to get things done quickly and easily. Whether they are shopping for a provider or checking their health insurance coverage, they want to get the information they need, when they need it – and they are willing to use self-service to achieve this.
In 2021 patients expect a digital health experience that is on par with their favorite consumer brand. While COVID has forced many healthcare services to rapidly adopt digital services, we’re still a long way from giving patients and the organizations managing these new services a good experience.
From a patient’s, perspective being able to text, email, or video chat with their doctor is increasingly becoming a must-have for the “modern patient experiencet”. In 2019 alone, 91% of patients survey by DrFirst wanted the ability to text a care team member. 
While some organizations have either built or bought tools that allow them to meet their patient’s expectations, the result has largely resulted in an inefficient workflow for care team members given the number of tools required to complete the job. In addition to that, it provides care team members with an incomplete view of a patient given that data is often being stored in separate places.
What do patients want?
Patients want care to be convenient and personalized to them. As the common saying goes “no two people are alike”. Whether it’s their preference of how they receive care such as in-person, video, text, etc, or how thorough of an explanation they want about a diagnosis, the saying holds true.
The 2019 NRC Health Healthcare Consumer Trends report found that 51.3% of patients value convenient access to care more than anything when deciding whether or not to stay with a provider.  To meet the demand from their patients, companies have had to scramble to find viable options that make care convenient. However, this additional convenience comes at a cost for care team members managing the process.
The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed shed some light on the healthcare sector, especially in terms of how services are rendered. Even though remote care services have been around for a while, they have only now started gaining popularity.
These services continue to revolutionize the healthcare sector even beyond the pandemic, which is a welcome innovation. With the speed at which the world is moving, and with the changes that come with it, healthcare cannot remain the same since livelihoods depend on it. There is the need, however, for a more customer-centered approach when it comes to telehealth, that will be discussed in this article.
Why must telehealth focus on the customer experience?
There are a lot of benefits of telemedicine and telehealth in general, and there is evidence to prove it. It is cost-effective and speeds up the process of diagnosis, not to mention the convenience it brings. However, in conversations about the implementations, one of the things that are not at the top of the list is patient (or customer) satisfaction. This is surprising because when it comes to healthcare, patients need the reassurance of the results of the service they have paid for, and they need to reap all the benefits of the service and more.
What it means to create a patient-centered experience is to consider the patient’s satisfaction before other features, including how sophisticated the technology is, when evaluating the platforms. There are a few questions to answer in this regard. For example, how easy would patients find it to use the platform? Will they be eager to use it? Would the service be faster than when receiving care in person? And what is there any significant difference in the quality and outcomes of the service?
In creating a telehealth platform that answers these questions and many others for the benefits of the customer, there is an opportunity to reap certain benefits. For one, the financial incentive that comes from taking this initiative cannot be passed on. Facilities and organizations that go this route also get to gain new clients and hence more business.