URGENT MESSAGE: Patient expectations have changed with the evolving healthcare landscape. Urgent care operators need to keep pace in adapting their own approaches in order to collect the highest possible percentage of payments—and to survive.

Randy Blue, MEd, CRCR is an Executive Director with HealthiPASS. He has over 25 years of experience in sales and marketing, specifically in the healthcare space.

With high-deductible insurance plans on the rise, patients are increasingly expected to pay for more and more of their own healthcare expenses. High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) tripled between 2009 and 2015, while average out-of-pocket costs per worker increased by 230%.1

In the age of healthcare consumerism, the old-school focus on insurance companies as primary payers has been replaced with a modern approach: treat patients as your primary customers. Patient satisfaction reports factor heavily into performance bonuses and penalties for healthcare providers.2 This means that it’s crucial to make patient-friendly billing a priority.

The goal now has become enabling the healthcare consumer to self-engage with their payment process and responsibility. A key to succeeding in 2016 is to make it easy for consumers to make a comfortable, well-informed purchasing decision. Patients crave information up front and are prepared to reward practices that provide it: in one survey, 52% of consumers indicated they would pay $200-$500 (or more) via debit or credit card if an estimate was provided during their visit.3

To collect more patient payments, there are four keys on which to focus. The tenets of securing a higher percentage of payment in the age of patient consumerism include transparency, automation, usability and immediacy.

Transparency
One of the ways that the healthcare industry is well behind the curve in the age of consumerism is in failing to treat care as a service to be purchased. Similar to nearly every other purchasing situation, consumers want to know the costs of their healthcare up front. According to a recent TransUnion survey, 80% of respondents would be more likely to use a healthcare provider that offers cost estimates up front. Despite that, only 30% were offered estimates prior to care.4

Though it’s impossible to give an exact quote, high-performing practices are providing customers with estimates based on their unique situation, including insurance coverage and any other relevant factors. By answering the clear demand for pretreatment cost estimates, practices give patients an important piece of the information necessary to make informed purchases of healthcare services.

Automation
Practices that get sucked down into the bad debt cycle end up paying for their mistakes. All too often, staff members wind up inundated with paperwork and they—or third-party agencies—are left to chase small balances from nonpayers. It’s inefficient and is a major hindrance to profitability and time efficiency.

Technological advances spare practices significant administrative costs and free staff members to focus on providing excellent customer service in both patient care and other core duties. Software solutions provide unparalleled accuracy, security, follow-up capabilities, and cost efficiency for both practices and ambulatory care centers.

Usability
The effectiveness of the technology you use is correlated with the ease of use. If patients aren’t comfortable adopting a new system because it doesn’t function simply or provide added benefit, practices can’t capitalize on it—no matter how wonderful its features may be.

Enable a user-friendly device, system, or portal and reap the rewards. Make it easy for patients to see the value of getting accurate information up front without having to stumble through complicated software or difficult tools. Providing choices of which devices to use (like a mobile app or tablet compatibility) puts the power in the hands of the healthcare consumer.

Check-in kiosks are one way to meet consumer demand for transparency in a way that’s easy to use. Patients can arrive at an office, enter their relevant information, and receive an estimate immediately. Their information, including a credit card number for later payment, can be stored securely on file. This eliminates redundancy and administrative burden while making it much easier and more likely to collect on a bill.

Immediacy
Practices that intend to secure only the copay during the visit and then follow up months later (expecting to see full payment on patient bills) are setting themselves up for failure. However, did you know that >90% of all patients are willing to pay for their care at the point of service—yet >30% walk out of a practice without paying a dime?5 Clearly, a tremendous opportunity is missed when practices or ambulatory centers aren’t prepared to collect at the outset.

The solution to this revenue loss is in collecting payment information up front. Why wait months and hope they’re still prepared to pay when consumers are ready, able, and willing to pay on the spot? Your automated, easy-to-use system should collect payment information prior to a patient visit, immediately after they’ve seen an estimate. Consumers appreciate the transparency and are more likely to pay when they feel as if accepting care is their choice and they are getting a fair deal.

Implement the core principles of transparency, automation, usability, and immediacy and you’ll see a significant uptick in revenue and a rapid decline in bad debt. These operational changes could be enough to make a struggling practice profitable, or an average practice thrive.

References

  1. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2015 Health Benefits Survey. September 22, 2015.
  2. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. PPS-Exempt Cancer Hospital Quality Reporting Listening Session. Available at: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Quality-Initiatives-Patient-Assessment-Instruments/HospitalQualityInits/HospitalHighlights.html. Accessed September 9, 2016.
  3. McKinsey and Company. The next wave of change for healthcare payment. May 2010.
  4. TransUnion Survey: Half of Americans will switch healthcare providers if the Supreme Court eliminates subsidies. Study also finds cost transparency top priority for patients. June 23, 2015. Available at: http://newsroom.transunion.com/transunion-survey-half-of-americans-will-switch-healthcare-providers-if-the-supreme-court-eliminates-subsidies Accessed September 9, 2016.
  5. McKesson Practice Consulting Solutions. Patient payments and collections: closing the gap on co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance and more. Available at: http://mptrms.mckesson.com/rs/MckessonPT/images/McKesson%20RMS%20Patient%20Payments%20and%20Collections.pdf. Accessed September 9, 2016.
Four Keys to Collecting Higher Payments in the Age of Patient Consumerism
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