Blog Post

Patient bill pay needs to adapt in a post-Covid-19 world. Here's how.

By Lauren RobinsonLauren Woodrow

June 11, 2021

    In this blog post, Larry Buller Jr., Executive Vice President of Technology at MBMS, shares his thoughts on best-practice patient pay experience in a post-Covid world.

    1. A best-in-class patient pay experience must be a critical part of hospital efforts to restore margins and build financial resilience in 2021.
    2. As the industry moves toward digital, many are overlooking foundational elements that can significantly impact the bottom line, such as user experience design, multi-modal communications strategies, and integrated financing options.
    3. The future of the patient pay experience is preference to pay, not just propensity to pay. The ultimate goal should be to tailor communications and collections strategies to individual patient preferences.

    1. Lauren Robinson: Covid-19 has expanded patient expectations around bill pay, and more patients are asking themselves why it is so hard to pay their bill. What do you think will be the biggest theme for patient pay experience in 2021? 

    Larry Buller Jr.: An easier, faster, and transparent patient bill pay experience will continue to be primary themes across 2021. The past year has required patients and providers to adapt. For example, expectations for point of service (in-person) collections have been reduced due to social distancing measures. We expect that patients will continue to request bill pay options that fit their preferences, whether that was shaped by Covid-19 or not. But this is not surprising—patients have wondered for years why paying their health care bill is more difficult than any of their other bills. They expect to quickly understand what they owe and why they owe it.

    2. Lauren Robinson: Do you think the buzz around an improved patient pay experience is warranted? 

    Larry Buller Jr.: I do think it is warranted, but I also think the market is overlooking the foundational elements of an ideal patient pay experience. Providers need to accommodate all patient preferences and double down on simple changes. Most of the attention, and for good reason, is on digital solutions such as text, email, or automation, but semantics and perception, what we would consider to be those foundational elements, could be impacting your bottom line as well.

    3.Lauren Robinson: It’s easy to see why providers may be overwhelmed by the simple, but also the larger-scale changes they could pursue. Let’s say that you’re a revenue cycle leader, and you’re given a blank check to do your job—what are the first improvements you would make?

    Larry Buller Jr.: Before we talk about a blank check item, what can be implemented quickly and at a low cost is improving communications about obligations and methods of payment. Many providers still struggle to produce a patient-friendly statement that clearly communicates the services received, the rendering providers, an accurate balance, insurance processing details, and online bill pay instructions. It should take a patient less than three minutes to pay their bill. Can you say confidently that your patients can pay their bills in less than three minutes? Ask yourself these four questions and you will either be relieved or frustrated:

    1. How many times did you mistype the website name or the account number?
    2. Can you see the statement? 
    3. Is there an option to opt into a payment plan without speaking to a representative?
    4. Can you enter the payment information easily?

    A more costly and labor-intensive project is to implement an interactive voice response (IVR) technology, which routes callers to an easy to navigate automated phone messaging system that suggests self-service options. This technology is heavily utilized successfully in other industries, but most healthcare providers overlook it even though the statistics show that patients still want to pay their bill over the phone. A larger win with significant capital needs is identifying a patient’s preference to pay with a devoted marketing strategy. 

    Providers could also use a technical approach and implement smart algorithms or aggregate multiple data sources to glean insights on patient preferences. In the long run, providers that segment patients by their bill pay preferences can promote prompt payment via individualized communication channels.

    4. Lauren Robinson: Your firm has over 35 years of radiology billing experience which gives you a distinct perspective on traditional collections policies. What are some examples of strategies your firm has used to improve collections in hospital-based radiology?

    Larry Buller Jr.: Hospital-based radiology is unique because a patient receiving a radiology procedure or service typically does not directly interact with a physician and may not return to that facility again.  A fully functional portal is not necessary in hospital-based radiology billing because patients don’t have a need to return to it, but there are still simple design elements that can impact collections performance. For example, our company’s bill pay portal originally asked patients to ‘sign up’ to pay their bill. We found that this wording deterred patients from participating, even though the portal never required a username. After we changed the wording from ‘sign up’ to ‘pay my bill’, the portal engagement rate increased by 15% within 30 days. This type of change is not applicable to all service lines, but I encourage providers to evaluate how their patients interact with the portal and payment options.

    5. Lauren Robinson: Digital communication strategies are receiving a lot of attention. What are the benefits and drawbacks of a digital payment approach?

    Larry Buller Jr.: Patients want more accessible ways to pay their bills, and text and email reminders are a great tool to prompt payment, improve the patient experience, and overall satisfaction. But it's critical that these tools are completely integrated into the entire patient pay experience. If they function independently from one another or the rollout is more of a ‘set it and forget it,’, it can lead to patient complaints. 

    Another consideration is that text and email communications might be met with patient skepticism because of the rise in phishing schemes. Patients are more mindful of fraud prevention and unsolicited digital outreach is now being met with more caution. That is not to say broadly that people do not want to receive texts or emails, but you need to ensure that your digital approach accounts for individual patient preferences and is secure and compliant.

    6.Lauren Robinson: We’ve discussed market expectations and the evolving status quo for patient pay experience, but what’s next? What is the future of the patient pay experience?

    Larry Buller Jr.: Healthcare has historically focused on propensity to pay, but we need to also focus on preference to pay. In the next couple of years, we're going to see a shift in the number of patients that prefer digital. Some providers have already implemented digital communications about patient payment, but a large majority still aren’t capturing the full potential. Often times, this is because providers don’t segment outreach or they only segment with general demographic information. Other times, it is because providers don’t have an overarching digital communications strategy and are not prepared to proactively manage patient expectations or concerns. 

    Even though we expect a shift toward digital, it’s also important to recognize that patients have individual preferences and some will continue to prefer traditional bill pay methods. Providers should aim to identify and segment individual patient preferences before the patient receives care. As we develop better databases, technologies, and algorithms, providers will be able to deliver a more tailored pay experience upfront.

     

    About the sponsor

    MBMS’s unique TeamTechnology® approach combines advanced technology, a customizable process, and billing specialists who are dedicated exclusively to a clients’ account. As a result, our clients benefit from the highest level of customer service and billing performance, guaranteed.  Visit our website at www.mbms.net to learn more about why physicians across the country choose MBMS as their billing partner.

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    This blog post is sponsored by MBMS, an Advisory Board member organization. Representatives of MBMS helped provide expertise and elect the topics and issues addressed. Advisory Board experts wrote the post, maintained final editorial approval, and conducted the underlying research independently and objectively. Advisory Board does not endorse any company, organization, product or brand mentioned herein.

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    This Q&A with an industry subject-matter expert was sponsored by MBMS, an Advisory Board member organization. Advisory Board's research experts selected the questions, conducted the interview, and maintained final editorial approval over the published Q&A.

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