When health systems select Patientco® for their patient payment needs, we treat them as a partner who is fully invested in their success. We don’t take a “set it and forget it” approach with our technology. Instead, we consult with our clients each month on the performance metrics that matter most to their success. During these collaborative meetings, we examine several metrics, including patient engagement and payment performance. We also discuss their strategic needs and highlight opportunities for improvement. Since COVID-19, these meetings have started to reveal how the pandemic has influenced patient collection trends and how top revenue cycle leaders are responding.

This blog explores the trends we’ve seen at some of the largest health systems in the U.S. to help you plan and evolve your revenue cycle strategy. 

3 Patient Collection Trends of 2020

Back-office collections increased.

The first patient collection trend might surprise you. Most of us expected a decrease in patient collections across the board. However, many of our health system clients saw their back-office collections increase in Q2. We reviewed the data and determined that patients paid bills that they would normally pay at point-of-service on the day of their appointment with self-service tools instead. Fewer in-person visits forced those payments to self-service channels, like our online PatientWallet® portal or by phone with our 24/7 automated voice response option. Although collections at point-of-service decreased, the increase in back-office collections has helped mitigate some of that decline.

The impact of cancelled elective procedures scheduled for April and May is still unclear as of August 2020. The effects and financial implications will emerge for health systems later in Q3 and Q4. Therefore, it’s too early to know whether the trend of increased back-office collections will continue. 

Still, this is an opportunity to create repeat users for online, self-service payment tools that contribute to back-office collections. Once patients experience the convenience of online, self-service payment options, they will likely stick with these options in the future. The same idea applies to telehealth. Forrester senior analyst, Arielle Trzcinski estimates that virtual care could eventually replace up to 40% of in-person doctor visits that don’t involve hospital stays. Patients may not revert back to in-person visits for everything after seeing how easy a virtual visit can be. If this trend does hold and patients continue to engage using self-service channels, RCM teams will benefit as well. Team members can focus on other tasks instead of following up with patients to request payments.

Organizations re-prioritized their vendor relationships.

COVID-19 has changed the way health systems look at relationships with outside vendors. This has the potential to impact patient collection trends in the future. Certain vendor relationships, like telehealth, were elevated in priority during the pandemic. Similarly, we’ve heard from several health system executives that there’s a heightened need for a partner, like Patientco that will engage patients and support self-service digital payments.

Health IT leaders shared a similar sentiment at Becker’s Health IT + Revenue Cycle Management Virtual Event last month and Laura Dyrda, a reporter for Becker’s Hospital Review, shared key takeaways from the session. 

“Health systems on the cutting-edge see personalized patient experiences and building an excellent ‘digital front door’ as mission critical to thriving in the future. The more data health systems have on their patients’ preferences, the better they can tailor to their needs in all communications, clinical care and payment options.” Laura Dyrda, Editor for Becker’s Hospital Review

Our clients have made significant progress to ensure every patient has a modern, tailored experience, both clinically and financially. For example, we’ve seen an uptick in adoption of Patientco’s text-to-pay solution. Providers simply text the co-pay amount to the patient. Then, the patient clicks on a tokenized link to pay with their own device. This has proven beneficial for telehealth visits and remote back-office teams. This is because patients don’t have to share their credit card information over the phone. Many health systems initially adopted text-to-pay to help navigate COVID-19. However, after seeing patients embrace the feature, they now plan to use text-to-pay long term.

Patient collections are more empathetic.

Revenue cycle leaders who were already dedicated to providing empathetic financial care before the pandemic understood that patients didn’t have the same financial stability they had at the start of 2020. As a result, they took additional measures to empathize with patients’ financial needs. For the first few months, several health systems stopped outbound calling to patients for payment on prior balances. Some organizations suspended use of bad debt service providers and expanded their financial assistance and charity policies. Other hospital systems paused their pre-service payment policies, which required patients to pay a portion of their estimated out of pocket liability upfront. Revenue cycle leaders want to ensure patients get the care they need, even if their income was impacted by COVID-19. These healthcare organizations demonstrate what a compassionate, more empathetic approach to patient collections looks like.

We also helped revenue cycle executives relax their payment plan guidelines for patients. By adjusting their business rules, we enabled multiple health systems to extend payment plan terms. This supports lower monthly payments for their patients. For example, patients might typically pay an $800 bill in $100 increments over the span of 8 months. With extended payment plans, patients can pay the balance in $80 increments over the span of 10 months.

Want more insights like this? 

To hear more about how leading health systems adapted to patient collection trends during a global pandemic, register for Patientco’s next webinar: Compassionate Financial Care 101: A Playbook for RCM Teams on Aug. 27 from 1-1:30 p.m. ET.

Attendees will hear from myself and another patient engagement expert who consults with some of the top revenue cycle leaders in the U.S. We’ve compiled best practices from successful RCM teams into a playbook, which we’ll present to help your team reach its full potential.