By Bird Blitch, Patientco CEOBird_headshot_HiRes

This week PwC released a report titled “Money Matters: Billing and Payments in a New Healthcare Economy,” one of the most in-depth studies on patient payment trends in recent times. The study confirms what many in the healthcare industry, including Patientco, have been saying: the patient payments process needs to improve or providers will be financially ruined by antiquated billing practices.

A Comprehensive Definition of the Patient Payments Challenge

In addition to outlining specific parts of the revenue cycle that need improvement (through extensive consumer surveys, no less), the report describes 4 things hospitals and other providers need to take in order to retain their patients and thrive in an increasingly competitive market: migrate to digital, sidestep claims through retail medicine, embrace simplicity, and offer multiple payment options.

Migrating to digital payment options is simply the next logical step in the larger trend of moving all healthcare communication online. However, unlike electronic health records, digital patient payment options are not specifically required to attest for meaningful use funding so many hospitals have put it off or passively accepted billing modules bolted on by their EHR provider. Often these modules are insufficient.

Retail medicine, by its nature, tends to provide patients with more convenient payment options. That said, they don’t face the challenge of uncompensated care so players like Walmart or CVS can charge upfront for a specified service.

Embracing simplicity has been one of Patientco’s core concepts from the start. We have written plenty about the advantages of simplifying communication and process on both sides of the bill. Offering multiple payment options is also a widely acknowledged prescription as well, which of course comprises the bulk of our cloud platform.

Make Your RCM Upgrade Patient-friendly AND Provider-friendly

Like many in the industry, I applaud these recommendations and I’ve already seen healthcare providers begin to make forward progress in these areas, specifically in issuing clearer statements and offering online payment options. That said, there is work to be done, both in adopting digital solutions and in the billing office.

Furthermore, the real opportunity lies in making the providers’ lives easier once the payment is made. Healthcare is undergoing a period of mergers and acquisitions- physicians are being purchased by hospitals and hospitals are being purchased by systems. Other financial arrangements, such as accountable care organizations, and payer-provider partnerships, have the potential to create a business office nightmare in terms of payment visibility. Scalability of your payments solution is the only way to guarantee a smooth transition during a merger or acquisition. Even the transition to a new EHR platform can be a huge burden on accounts receivable without a scalable revenue cycle solution.

Now more than ever, CFOs need to be able to see how much their entities are being paid and by which methods and which patients. As financial control inevitably becomes more centralized throughout care organizations, disparate billing systems will only add time and confusion to the reporting process, and create lag before critical decisions can be made. Even for a single hospital for example, having different solutions for different patient payment streams adds layers of unnecessary complexity for both staff and patients. If a patient has a question about a payment, a staff member should be able to pull up a transaction history for the entire system without any trouble.

Offering patient-friendly payment methods and self-service tools only make sense if the provider can consolidate and post the payments quickly and efficiently. But for the hospital that has yet to implement even online bill pay, the good news is you can now offer all of these payment methods through a single cloud-based solution. In a few weeks you can automate the consolidation and posting on the back end.

Looking ahead, providers must embrace simplicity for both the patient and themself. That is, don’t let simplicity on the patient side come at the expense of you and your billing staff. With the right payments platform, it won’t.

If you are interested in learning how Patientco can help you automate your patient payment process, click here.