Patient Financial Engagement After the Pandemic: 5 Takeaways

This post originally appeared on Becker’s Hospital Review.

Patient expectations increasingly mirror consumer behavior, spurring health systems to engage sooner and provide greater cost transparency.

Financing options improve the patient experience and benefit health systems through increased collections and patient retention.

During a virtual featured session sponsored by VisitPay as part of Becker’s Hospital Review 11th Annual Meeting in May, three VisitPay executives examined modern patient financial engagement trends, shared findings from primary research and discussed client experiences:

  • Will Reilly, chief marketing officer
  • Brian Wiley, vice president of client success
  • Collin Cain, director of decision science and analytics

Five takeaways were:

1. Health systems are treating patients more like consumers.

Patient expectations for healthcare interactions are changing, influenced by their experiences as consumers in other industries. In this consumerized environment, “Those companies and organizations that create a consumer-first experience will be best positioned to win,” Mr. Reilly said. People compare their healthcare experience to their experience in areas such as online shopping and banking.

Medical bills, lacking in transparency, are a source of frustration to patients. Optimally, a patient’s bill is consistent with their clinical experience, is understandable, and offers payment choices. Health systems reap benefits from engaging with patients early in their healthcare journey; increasingly patients expect early cost estimates to start that process.

2. COVID-19 and the economic fallout altered the healthcare landscape significantly in 2020.

When the pandemic arrived, medical bills were already a widespread source of patient stress and bankruptcies but had been somewhat deprioritized relative to other bills.

In 2020, as financial pressures mounted on many Americans, health systems took different approaches to the sudden economic shifts. Providers tailored their responses to their patient population and took extremely patient-friendly approaches. Some hospitals eliminated interest or allowed patients to skip payments.

3. Financing plans allow health systems to balance patient needs with financial viability.

The twin objectives of serving patients and remaining financially viable provide an opportunity for financing, which enables hospitals to put their balance sheets to work to help patients. “Finance plans are an extremely powerful tool at the disposal of health systems,” Mr. Cain said. “They can be the perfect blend between patient-friendly and financially viable.”

Interest rates from health system financing are typically lower than credit cards, which many patients use to finance medical bills. Unlike other industries, for health systems, interest is not a source of revenue or profit. “Interest is not a tool for revenue. It is a tool for behaviors,” Mr. Cain said. As credit alternatives tightened during COVID-19, health system financing increased significantly.

4. Patients welcome financing options from health systems.

VisitPay survey data shows that patients’ experiences with finance plans (measured by Net Promoter Score) compare favorably to leading consumer brands like Target and Apple. “There’s not a negative consequence when you solve someone’s problem,” Mr. Wiley said. When consumer finance plans are adopted, there are fewer missed payments and a substantial increase in early payments in full.

5. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital technology.

Patients increasingly engage with digital payments with a pronounced uptick in mobile applications. Counter to assumptions, digital healthcare payments are prevalent across all age groups, according to the VisitPay survey.

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