Consumers are really feeling the pressure of rising healthcare costs. Deductibles are increasing rapidly as more employers opt for high-deductible insurance plan offerings. The cost of care continues to grow at alarming rates, and the threat of losing coverage feels ever-present.

In fact, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey showed that more than half of all workers (51%) with single coverage faced a deductible of at least $1,000. Considering that the U.S. median income was merely $55,775 in 2015, that’s a significant number for many patients. That same KFF study also found that high-deductible plan enrollment increased by eight percent in the past two years which continues to add to patient payment pressure.

These converging factors make it hard for patients to pay what they owe for the care they’ve received. They also make it increasingly tough for providers to collect balances due.

For patients, when it comes to covering their healthcare bills, outdated payment options aren’t helping. Today, patients expect the same level of convenience they experience in other industries; with flexible, digital options that give greater insight into healthcare costs, simplify the billing process, and ultimately make high-deductible plans more manageable.

Organizations able to provide these options set themselves up for increased patient satisfaction – and reduced patient bad debt in the process.

So, what is it that patients want?

Demand for digital electronic billing and payments options continues to rise. Results of a 2017 survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics and sponsored by Navicure® was compiled into our Patient Payment Check-Up™ report, which shows that patients are interested in:

  • Receiving bills electronically via email
  • Paying bills electronically via online payment tools, automated payment plan or electronic payment tool
  • Having convenient options for paying their balance over time
  • Paying small balances (under $200) using a credit card that’s securely stored with the provider organization
  • Having more insight into what they owe and why
  • Receiving estimates for the cost of their care up-front

The survey also found that this digital migration goes beyond payment and that patients are perfectly happy to provide their personal contact information to permit digital communication from their providers, e.g., email addresses and cell phone numbers to facilitate payment and communications. Further, while only a minority (14%) of patients are price shopping to find lower prices for healthcare services, 75 percent of those who do comparison shop are millennials – who now represent the largest generation in the U.S.

However, right now, patient demand for digital payment options and transparent communications is ahead of health system and practice adoption. For instance, even though 52 percent of respondents noted that they would prefer electronic bills over paper, an overwhelming 89 percent of providers still use paper statements. Despite the fact that providers think these digital tools can improve a range of revenue cycle issues, including the cost of collections, patient A/R days, bad debt, and write offs, healthcare organizations have been slow to update their practices with these user-friendly processes and solutions.

Bridge the gap with modern solutions

Healthcare organizations can bridge the gap between what patients want and what providers are doing with a variety of revenue cycle solutions, such as:

  • Patient payment estimation solutions that estimate the patient’s share of the bill so they can plan and budget accordingly. To be effective, estimation tools need to include a real-time eligibility check to determine unmet deductibles and co-insurance amounts.

          Offering cost estimates is an important way to bring clarity to the payment process and simultaneously improve patient satisfaction – a win-win for patients and providers alike.

Interestingly, our survey findings indicate that most patients (66%) think that any estimate or one within 10 percent or more of their actual cost would be helpful. As such, the inability to provide a high degree of reliable estimates should not be seen as a barrier for providers.

One example of success in this area comes from Massachusetts-based Prima CARE, P.C. After implementing a care estimation solution the organization increased time-of-service payments for high-end diagnostic tests by more than $100,000 in just five months. They also succeeded in offering patients greater price transparency and a simpler payment process. Another benefit? They simultaneously reduced the cost of collections.

  • Electronic payment tools enable organizations to securely store patients’ debit/credit card numbers and charge each patient’s card once financial responsibility is determined. These credit-card-on-file (CCOF) tools can be used to collect co-pays, unpaid balances, unmet deductibles and co-insurance after payer remittance. Look for a solution that facilitates automated payment plans, too.

          That’s what Piedmont Urgent Care by WellStreet did when they developed an automated “no-touch”           patient payment process to reduce patient collection costs, shrink the payment timeline and improve staff efficiency. Not only did the high-volume, multi-location organization reduce bad debt by 75 percent, from 8 percent to 2 percent, in their efforts to make the payment process easier, they made patients happier, too. Today, WellStreet sustains some of the highest Net Promoter patient satisfaction scores in the industry.

Saying goodbye to manual, paper-based revenue cycle processes does more than improve billing efficiencies. Offering convenient digital billing and payment options shows patients your organization is as tuned-in to their preferences for meeting their financial obligations as you are concerned about their health. That’s exactly the kind of relief patients need as they navigate today’s high-deductible reality.

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Kermit S. Randa is Chief Growth Officer at Navicure, a provider of integrated cloud-based medical claims management, patient payment and healthcare data analytics solutions. Follow him on Twitter @Kermit_Randa.

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