This Article was Previously Published in Forbes
When consumers purchase something online, they are no longer limited to using their credit cards. Increasingly, e-commerce sites include options like Apple Pay, PayPal, Venmo, Google Pay and even payment installment apps, such as Affirm.
Why is this? It’s because more companies have started to view the payment experience as a competitive differentiator. Just look at Starbucks. The company’s mobile payments app has more users than Apple Pay and Google Pay. With its robust rewards program and easy-to-use interface, consumers clearly feel incentivized to use the app.
Some companies are even willing to process payments through a potential competitor like Amazon with Amazon Pay. They recognize that more consumers are using these checkout experiences and are taking steps to offer it to their own customers.
Health Care Is Unique
While creating a seamless payment experience is becoming a trend across industries, the health care vertical will have to approach this trend differently. This is because health care is unlike any other industry, a fact I’ve learned in my experience working in the health care payments space.
For one, patients do not know the exact price of their care ahead of time. Also, spending money on a hospital bill is not something that patients typically plan for — it is often an unplanned visit or required care. Even if care is deemed necessary, patients often skip it due to concerns about costs. Additionally, health systems no longer just compete with the hospital down the street. They are competing against new, lower-cost care models, like telehealth, retail clinics and urgent care centers. More patients are leveraging lower-cost options, too, bypassing traditional care to save money. This can reduce visits to health systems, negatively impacting bottom lines.
These are reasons why a top-notch payment experience for patients is crucial. A better payment experience promotes greater price transparency and helps patients afford care. This leaves patients satisfied and more likely to refer their provider to others.
Patients May Be Satisfied Following Care, But Not After Billing
However, patients who interact with a health system’s payment and revenue cycle technology rank these experiences as the least positive out of all interactions in their episode of care, according to a 2018 Black Book survey. Furthermore, the survey found that 88% of consumers blame the hospital directly for those negative experiences, not the financial technology or the electronic health records vendor.
Translation: Patient satisfaction ratings can drop significantly from post-discharge to after the billing and payment experience is complete. While the clinical care may be excellent, if the financial experience is a negative one, that excellent care can quickly be forgotten. The patient financial experience matters. In fact, my company’s 2019 survey found that 79% of patients consider the billing and payment process when selecting a provider. Without an excellent patient financial experience, health systems risk missing out on attracting new patients and keeping existing ones loyal.
What Can Be Done
For health systems to create a truly differentiated payment experience, they must address patients’ No. 1 concern: affordability. That starts at pre-service. Patients want to receive information about costs and available payment options before they receive care. While it may be challenging to provide the exact cost, providing an estimate upfront helps manage expectations for their bill. Going a step further, health systems can highlight flexible payment options at pre-service, like payment plans, to ensure patients can afford their care.
Affordable payment options work best when there is a self-service enrollment option, and most patients, 69%, want a self-service, online enrollment option, according to my company’s survey. If payment plans or financing options are offered, providers typically sign patients up in-person on via phone calls during business hours. However, it can be embarrassing for someone to admit they cannot afford their bill. Providing an online, self-service enrollment option eliminates this hurdle and empowers patients with more control to manage their health care expenses.
Finally, a truly great experience is personalized. What leaves a positive impression on one consumer may go unnoticed by another. This is what makes the Starbucks app so successful — it understands your habits and order preferences and accommodates them. A customer never has to sift through the app’s menu to re-order their favorite beverage, because it’s already on their screen for the next time they visit.
Health systems can also personalize the financial experience for each patient. This includes how providers communicate with each patient and what payment options are made available. To do this, health systems must leverage business rules and patient-specific data, as well as bill balance amount. For example, a patient with a $50 bill balance probably doesn’t need a payment plan or financing options, but a patient with a bill balance over $3,000 probably does. Or, say a patient makes a partial payment on a bill but doesn’t enroll in a payment plan — this is an opportunity for the provider to send payment plan or financing options with messaging tailored to that patient’s current bill balance.
The health care industry is unlike any other and many of its distinct challenges can be tackled by revamping the patient financial experience. From price transparency and affordability to increased competition for patient loyalty, a superior payment experience can help address all of these. While it may not be a silver bullet for every obstacle an organization faces, the payment process is a powerful business tool, a concept that health care is beginning to embrace.