By Bird Blitch, Patientco CEO

This article originally appeared in Healthcare IT News. To view the original article, click here.

For a while, it seemed that bigger was better. Early adoption of information technologies enabled retail businesses to specialize and streamline processes. As a result, big-box retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart squashed competition with substantially lower prices enabled by their sheer size and volume. But now, with the availability of cost effective, more accessible software, the competitive advantages of scale are being commoditized. As such, everyone now has access to scale. Therefore, the new way to differentiate is through innovation and outstanding customer service.

Hospitals should take heed—where they stand now is where retailers were more than a decade ago. “Mega-mergers” are increasingly the norm, spawning super-regional systems on par with the “big-boxification” of retail. In 2012, for example, there were 105 hospital mergers, up from 50 in 2009—and experts expect this trend to accelerate due to healthcare reform, declining reimbursements and changing business models.

Becoming bigger can enable hospitals to better spread financial risks, impose quality controls, invest in technological improvements and gain economies of scale that can lower costs. But regardless of clinical reach, if they don’t utilize technology to specialize in innovative customer service, they may find themselves dialing back and closing branches, like Best Buy, or possibly going out of business, like Cost Plus and Kmart. Hospitals and health systems can learn from businesses like Trader Joe’s, Ikea and Target—sustainable models that deliver quality and affordable products with an emphasis on exceptional customer service through many touch points, all of which is enabled through technology.

Patient financial engagement: Delivering quality and service

As consumers, patients want to experience healthcare in the same way they enjoy an amazing retail experience. They expect simplicity, convenience and outstanding customer service—and those organizations that cater to busy consumers will gain their loyalty.

One often-underappreciated aspect of customer service that these modern, commercial businesses have mastered, with the help of technology, is financial engagement—engaging the consumer in such a way that makes it easy for them to purchase goods or services and helps them feel like it was a positive overall buying experience. This holds true when it comes to patients’ financial experiences as well. Patients expect to understand the clinical services they have purchased, have convenient and flexible options to manage and pay those expenses, and receive fast, friendly customer service when they have a question or need assistance.

To successfully accomplish this, providers should look for a fully integrated technology solution that is designed specifically to help them easily create and manage a positive patient financial experience at every point in the patient revenue cycle. This not only ensures patients receive a consistent experience from registration to the last payment made, but also gives providers better control over and visibility into the payment process. These benefits empower providers to make data-driven decisions and continually optimize their process for better results.

Solutions that drive positive patient financial engagement enhance the clinical patient experience as well, giving the consumer many reasons to return. By facilitating an understanding of charges and services, as well as providing patients with convenient methods of payment, these tools help patients manage their journey through the healthcare system and enable healthcare organizations to deliver the level of service and respect to their customers that they have now come to expect from other businesses and retailers.

Furthermore, this is critical to business success. It’s not an option for excellence; it’s a mandate to survive. In order to remain competitive and viable in this new healthcare environment, hospitals must take patients’ financial experiences into account to ensure they are positive and engaging. As the industry shifts from volume to value, providers will see a greater portion of their earnings tied to patient outcomes and will need to find new ways to engage, motivate and reward patients for participating in their healthcare choices.