Bringing a Consumer-oriented Approach to Healthcare

Healthcare cannot mirror Amazon, Uber or Google. Journalists, consultants and other experts often make aspirational consumer-tech comparisons around changes that could occur in healthcare to make it more efficient, less costly and patient-centered. On closer inspection, however, healthcare’s regulatory and privacy infrastructure make many consumer-tech comparisons seem pretty hollow.   

At the same time, health systems can learn from these companies. They can draw valuable lessons from the ways discerning consumers interact and engage with these service industries—and adopt applicable trends and entrenched habits for the healthcare setting.

Specifically, personalization, data transparency and ease-of-use are qualities healthcare organizations should strive for in every setting of care. By offering a better experience in this way, as the big consumer-tech companies do, healthcare can foster more informed patient engagement, which yields better behavior around personal health and financial choices.

Patient billing stuck in the 20th century

What has not changed behaviors, at least not appreciably, are high-deductible health plans. One recent estimate shows 47 percent of Americans under the age of 65 have an HDHP, but there is scant evidence that shouldering a greater burden of medical costs has transformed patients into more informed and judicious healthcare decision-makers.

Dated patient-billing processes have only hindered behavior change. Healthcare has the most advanced technology in the world to diagnose and treat illness and analyze data. Business offices also have sophisticated revenue cycle management analytics to monitor financial performance. Patient billing, however, is stuck in the late 20th Century. Not only has it not kept up with other processes in healthcare organizations, it hasn’t stayed on pace of other industries.

Consider the difference: we live in an age where you can use your mobile phone to obtain shopping coupons or purchase tickets, then choose whether to print them directly, have them emailed or appear electronically in an app on that phone. Would you like a reminder or information about updates? Specify the method – email, text, social media, automatically added to your device’s electronic calendar or any of a half-dozen other options.

Now compare that experience to a healthcare visit. It’s likely the bulk of your communications with your healthcare provider come either through phone calls or postal mail. You may receive an email if your provider is “progressive.” There might even be a portal you signed up for at some point. Regardless, data sharing and communication is always on the provider’s limited terms, with no consideration for your preferences or experience.

Suffice it to say, none of this is good news for providers in terms of clinical outcomes, financial health and patient satisfaction. In short, healthcare consumerism represents the biggest challenge to the bottom lines of providers.

Part of the reason is the patient is now the largest payer behind Medicare and Medicaid. Their payments constitute 35 percent of provider revenue. Healthcare organizations can no longer treat patient payment as an afterthought, especially considering that Moody’s Investors Service predicts bad debt will increase by 6 percent to 7 percent in 2018.

Lessons from consumer technology

Fortunately, companies such as Amazon and Uber offer healthcare organizations a guide to modern consumer preferences. Consumer tech companies continue to enhance their user experience with greater personalization and transparency. At every step, the unique preferences and previous choices of consumers are reflected. Log-in to Amazon, you see what you were browsing for on your last visit; Uber presents a list of places that you travel to frequently when you open the app. Once you make a purchase, every step is tracked; on Amazon, through package tracking numbers; on the Uber app, a tiny car icon moves in real-time to your location.   In both instances, the consumer is presented with the opportunity to provide real-time feedback on the experience.

Healthcare can—and should be—similar. From the first phone call (or online request) to schedule an appointment, healthcare organizations can begin to personalize each subsequent patient experience. For example, through advanced proprietary analytics linked to leading consumer databases, organizations can automatically learn more about a patient’s ability and propensity to pay in real-time—with very little information captured directly from the patient. Once care is delivered, the healthcare organization can deliver a consolidated and easily understandable financial-responsibility view through an online portal that patients will actually want to use. There, patients are presented with an Explanation of Benefits (EOB), hospital and provider bills side-by-side for maximum transparency and clarity.

Seamless enterprise-wide systems integration and reliable intelligence enable organizations to confidently help patients understand what they owe by translating and defining information directly from their health plan, including health savings accounts, which grew by 81 percent in 2018. Total transparency combined with incremental and manageable payments make it easy for patients to manage their financial obligations.

Patient-as-payer changing dynamic

Transforming the patient experience, especially in regards to their medical bills, is a long-overdue step to help heal dysfunctional and confusing financial relationship patients have with their providers. Amazon, Uber, Google and others have shown what works in their industries. 

While there is no need for health systems to reinvent the wheel, these organizations can adapt key techniques perfected by digital innovators like Uber, Google and Amazon to quickly deliver a higher level of satisfaction to their patients.

Looking for a place to get started? Check out VisitPay’s new eBook, Improving the Patient Experience, to learn how to create a billing experience that matches the quality of the clinical experience. You will gain practical insights into how to give patients more control, how to select the right technology, and critical lessons learned from leading health systems.

Read our Patient Financial Health ebook

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