As high-deductible health plans become the rule rather than the exception and physicians collect increasing amounts of revenue from patients rather than insurers, providers need to offer payment flexibility through multiple channels to ensure they collect as much revenue as possible. Additionally, as tech-savvy consumers rely on electronic forms of payment, they are less likely to have cash on hand to cover co-pays and deductibles. The fact that "cash is no longer king" should create an impetus for providers to establish methods of payment that patients will be motivated to use.
A 2011 survey revealed that 54% of consumers opted to use credit or debit cards when making purchases, while only 21% reported using cash. Most of the cash-payers were aged 65 and over, while the majority of 18-24-year-olds preferred other payment methods. According to the Sixth Annual Billing Household Survey, 74% of US households pay their bills online, while 82% regularly utilize at least two different payment options, such as mobile, online, or auto-draft. As RCM increasingly parallels a retail model, it makes sense for providers to offer as many options as possible, including payment plans and multiple payment methods.
Industry experts point out that patient portals serve as an especially convenient option for consumers. They can login to access their account to view billing information and make payments. However, portals can provide additional information, such as educational resources, that encourage patient engagement, which increases the likelihood that providers will be paid. Medical practices report that they receive payments more readily when patients can pay online. In many cases, patients can receive automated reminders to help them keep track of when a bill is due. Furthermore, this online tool helps physicians maximize revenue by allowing them to save money on administrative costs. Instead of hiring more staff to deal with tedious manual processing, health groups can streamline administrative tasks and efficiently keep track of patient balances while offering payment flexibility.
Providers who use patient kiosks find that incorporating these tools encourages patients to enroll in portals. Online access empowers consumers to take more initiative in managing their accounts, while providers observe that enhanced access results in more patients paying overdue medical bills.
Integrated Technology and Consumer Convenience
Electronic payment options can also be integrated with other data systems to optimize the benefits of payment flexibility. For example, portals can offer automated payment information and reminders. Not only can patients be prepared to make a payment at or before their next visit, but notifying them of an upcoming appointment means they are more likely to show up, creating an opportunity for more revenue that might otherwise be lost due to a missed appointment. Likewise, electronic credit card processing keeps billing delays to a minimum.
Industry analysts also point out that when patients can utilize a variety of payment options - cash, check, credit card, and electronic payment - revenue intake increases and is expedited, as fewer statements or past-due notices need to be sent.
As physicians come to rely on patient payments more than ever before, it is critical that they take proactive measures to keep collection methods versatile and up-to-date. Educating staff and collecting at point of service are important, but revenue will still be lost if providers do not offer payment flexibility and embrace advanced technology to integrate data and streamline processing. At a time when 40% of insured Americans are dealing with medical debt, providers who are willing to equip their practices with the cutting-edge resources they need for patient-centered payment options will see a multifold return on their investment.
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