In today's digital environment, consumers can complete financial transactions through a variety of devices. With the growth of online banking and retail, most businesses have developed consumer-friendly billing channels, providing clear invoices and a selection of payment options.
Unfortunately, payment flexibility has been slower to catch on in the healthcare industry. Patients are usually asked to pay a co-pay at point of service, only to learn that the practice does not offer payment options that tech-savvy consumers have come to expect. Some offices prefer to accept cash, but younger patients tend to rely almost exclusively on digital payment methods.
After a visit, patients may be asked to mail in payments; an inconvenient method for most millenials.
Additional challenges arise when patients have to pay bills from several providers within a health network. Each location has its own payment system, and lack of billing coordination and payment flexibility leaves patients confused and less likely to honor their financial obligations.
According to the Eighth Annual Billing Household Survey (2016), the average online household uses more than three different methods to pay bills every month, with customers using different combinations of channels each month. One-third of respondents report using a mobile phone to pay a bill within the last 12 months. This figure is 22% higher than it was last year. While most of us receive a combination of paper and electronic bills, more than half of survey respondents admit that they prefer to receive bills electronically.
Consumers find electronic transactions to be more efficient and accurate. They enjoy being in control of how they pay. They especially appreciate being able to make a payment anytime, anywhere, without being limited by the constraints of the provider's schedule. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed note that multiple payment options within secure data systems increases customer satisfaction.
Implications For Providers
Providers can maximize revenue by meeting patients where they're comfortable. As increasing numbers of patients become responsible for higher deductibles and co-pays, they may prefer to pay one bill through two different channels, such as online and over the phone. Providers need to offer payment flexibility and streamline processing so that different payment methods are credited to the appropriate account as soon as possible. Seventy percent of survey respondents expect their accounts to be credited on the same day payment is made.
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Providers need to include emergency payment options and allow patients multiple channels for paying past-due amounts. Convenience and speed in billing and payment methods are the primary factors determining whether consumer expectations are met.
Practices are encouraged to streamline and consolidate billing when patients visit multiple providers or locations within a network. For example, patients who see multiple providers on the same date of service should be able to review all incurred costs on the same statement.
Although some providers believe the time and resources required to cater to patient preferences isn't worth it, it's important to understnad that the benefits are mutual. Providing multiple (and digital) payment options leads to more efficient processing and retention of revenue. Human error that occurs when tasks are accomplished manually is far less likely in digital processing.
With this in mind, it's best to study the demographics of your patient base and track payment methods to provide options that consumers are motivated to utilize. While more households make electronic payments each year, traditional payment methods are still common. Since it gives customers what they want and optimizes revenue, payment flexibility is a win-win for providers and patients alike.
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