Q&A: Patientco’s Josh Byrd on Redesigning PatientWallet and the Need for Innovation in Health Care

The following interview originally appeared at Ultera Digital’s website. To view the original, click here.

By Jared Johnson, Ultera Digital 

Patientco recently released a fully redesigned version of PatientWallet, a Web-based service for patients to pay all of their medical bills in one place and communicate with their provider.

I recently spoke with Josh Byrd, Patientco’s director of marketing, about how they pursued such a large-scale project, the need for innovation in health care, and how paying your medical bills can make or break your entire patient experience.

1. How did you decide to rebuild PatientWallet?

Payment technology, Web technology and consumer expectations have changed so much in the four years since we built the first version of PatientWalletSM. It didn’t make sense to us to just do an add-on or a renovation on top of our current solution. The funny thing is, the solution wasn’t broken. In fact, our clients loved it and many asked why we were redesigning it. The simple reason is because we can do it even better. Looking forward and seeing things coming down the line such as new forms of mobile payments and changing consumer preferences, we wanted to rebuild PatientWallet with all of those things in mind so we can provide the best experience possible.

2. Which departments/teams were involved in the rebuild?

Building PatientWallet was a huge coordinated effort. R&D, which consists of our Product team and Development team, played crucial roles from a technical standpoint. Our UX designer was key throughout to ensure the payment experience was excellent. The Customer Experience and Marketing teams got involved to make sure the roll-out to patients, clients and the market was seamless.

3. How did the team get all of the necessary buy-ins to proceed?

It wasn’t as hard as you might think. We are very process-driven at Patientco, and we had strong leadership through the whole process. From a marketing standpoint, it was very interesting. We had to walk this line between a new product release and a product that’s always been there. When you’re releasing a product in health care, “new” is a bad word because “new” is unproven. We were very careful to accentuate the benefits and not the “newness.” We were careful to use “redesigned” or “rebuilt” because we wanted to say we’ve taken the experience you love and made it even better.

4. Were there any regulatory or compliance concerns, and if so, how did you overcome them?

There weren’t really any new regulatory or compliance concerns. There was never a question of “how compliant should we be?” We have always taken security compliance incredibly seriously in our culture. So it was just baked into the project from day 1.

5. Any tips for how Marketing can work collaboratively with other departments on a project like PatientWallet?

The key is to work together on an ongoing basis and encourage a natural collaboration. Don’t wait until a project starts. In our office, we’ve moved Marketing and Product Development right next to each other so the dialogue is ongoing.

We spend a lot of time together at weekly “all hands” meetings, free catered lunch Fridays, and other monthly and yearly activities. We encourage everyone to go to lunch once a month with someone they don’t know from a different department, and the company picks up the tab. All these things are designed to encourage a natural collaboration. So when it comes time to get work done on a project, it isn’t awkward at all.

6. How did you test to ensure that patients would want to use it?

We listened to customer feedback but also looked at the data. We had several years of data – bounce rate, payment completion rates, payment amounts, interactions – plus the anecdotal comments from the Customer Experience team to really develop what this new product would look like. The Customer Experience team is constantly talking to providers and patients about what would make the product better, but it’s important to balance opinions with data.

As the build went along we used internal feedback and patient user testing. We worked with a company that brought in pre-screened, randomized people of all demographics to complete a series of payments and interactions using PatientWallet. We recorded the interactions, made changes, then did it again.

Bottom line, you’ve got to think like a patient. Because if you think like a technologist or a marketer or a hospital executive, you risk missing the point. And the point is, we’re trying to do our part to make health care better by creating a positive patient payment experience.

7. Why is it important for health care organizations to adopt new technologies quickly and find ways to innovate?

The instant answer is because new technologies offer better, more efficient ways of running a business. However, I think if you’re just adopting new technology to adopt new technology, you’re falling short because it’s important to understand how the technology fits into the bigger picture of an organization. It’s not just about the technology itself; it’s how you re-align people, processes and technology to create a better health care experience on both sides of the table.

Patients expect transparency, for instance, but if you don’t align your people at the front end when a patient’s checking in, when discharging and the staff whom patients contact when they have a question about their bill, you’re in trouble and no technology can fix that. So it has to be a mindset shift to constant improvement, and it doesn’t have to be a major overhaul. It can be iterative. But start making steps toward improving the financial experience for patients and for yourselves as providers.

8. Any final comments on how big a role the payment experience plays in health care?

It’s driven by consumers and it’s not that different from experiences in other industries. Suppose you go to a five-star hotel and have a fabulous experience. Then you show up at checkout and they say, “We think your charges are going to be such-and-such, but we’re going to send you another bill that isn’t really a bill, then we’re going to send you five more bills for the different things you did!”

Then you go home and start getting the bills, and they all look the same; you can’t tell the difference and they start calling you to collect on them. How much of that amazing experience at the hotel are you going to remember? And what are you going to tell your friends about? Are you going to tell them about that amazing restaurant or spa or are you going to tell them how terrible it was at checkout?

Health care consumers expect the same concierge-level service, convenient payment options and transparency that they get in other industries. And it’s not as hard or as scary for hospitals to deliver it as they might think. They’ve just got to have the right mindset and align their people, their processes and their technology to deliver a better experience.

Finance is the last touch point in patient care, and it can make or break their entire patient experience. Even if they get the best clinical care in the world, if their financial experience is terrible, that’s what they’re going to remember.