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Leveraging Best Practices from Higher Education to Improve the Patient Pay Experience

by John Talaga

Adopting a New Patient-Centric Approach

Increasing consumerism and growing patient financial liability are changing the face of healthcare, just as they have higher education. Decreased revenue from third-parties like insurance companies for healthcare or financial aid sources for higher ed are also a factor. In order to protect ongoing revenue streams, these organizations need to take a new approach to consumer engagement and payment support, one that puts the patient or the student at the center. Higher ed is well on its way and savvy hospitals are quickly embracing similar practices.

Pricing Transparency

For university students, tuition and fees are fairly straightforward and easy to understand, even when prices increase from one semester to the next. This is not the case for patients because of the complex nature of receiving care, which can include multiple visits, surgeries, or treatments. Insurance coverage, which can vary greatly from patient to patient, adds another level of complexity. The need for referrals and approvals are yet another factor, and the list goes on and on. Even with these challenges, technology is readily available to help hospitals provide patients with fairly accurate estimates of their costs before the time of service.

Patient-Centric Payment Options

The rise in tuition, just like the rise in healthcare costs, has increased the amount of post-service debt and reliance on collections agencies for colleges and hospitals alike. This does more than hurt the bottom line; When balances are turned over to collectors, it makes the hospital’s relationship with the patient more adversarial. Transitioning from post-service collections to pre-service collection options positions the hospital as an advocate for patients. Universities have done a good job in this regard by using proactive outreach and pre-approved payment options for students whose financial aid is insufficient to cover their full tuition. These options are student-centric and flexible, and based on each student’s unique financial situation. The payment plans act as lines of credit that can be spread over three to six months. A modest service fee can be incorporated into the terms for the convenience of paying over a period of time. This has been a widely accepted practice for universities for many years and is now being adopted by hospitals.

It is also important to understand that patients—just like students—want the same payment options they’ve come to expect in other areas of their lives. Hospitals should be prepared to offer patients retail-like payment tools. Not only does this increase the chances hospitals will be paid in full; it also improves the patient payment experience and increases patient satisfaction and loyalty. As well, hospitals need the ability to re-balance accounts to accommodate additional payments, late charges, or re-bills to insurance companies.

Simplified International Payments

Both universities and hospitals are looking abroad for additional revenue opportunities. For healthcare, foreign patients are typically self-pay, which eliminates the hassle of insurance reimbursements but makes the patient pay process even more important. Yet, many of these patients, just like students, experience unnecessary hurdles when trying to move money from their country to the U.S. Wire transfers are expensive and international credit cards often charge hefty fees. Just as in higher ed, hospitals can leverage digital technology to eliminate these costs, making international healthcare services more attractive. Hospitals that leverage these tools gain a competitive advantage over those that do not, making repeat “customers” more likely.

Credit Cards and Data Security

Before the rise of consumerism, most healthcare payments came from insurance companies and the government, leaving little need for credit cards. With the rise in high-deductible health plans and self-pay, patients are increasingly turning to credit cards as a method of payment. Hospitals need to maintain the highest level of PCI compliance and data security to protect their patients’ financial information. This compliance must cover all merchant IDs throughout a hospital’s facilities, such as cafeterias and hospital gift shops. Organizations need to leverage the appropriate technology to achieve the lowest PCI scope possible.

Conclusion

With the continued rise in healthcare costs and growing patient responsibility, hospitals and patients alike face increased financial pressure. While universities can withhold transcripts until balances are paid, hospitals cannot—and would not—withhold needed care from patients who cannot pay. By leveraging best practices from higher ed, hospitals can give patients greater peace of mind knowing their hospital will work with them to ensure they can afford the care they need. Creating a proactive, responsive payment process based on the consumer’s preferences helps improve patient satisfaction and the patient pay experience. It also reduces collection costs, enhances revenue, and give hospitals a competitive advantage.