Putting the Patient First: How User Experience Design Improves the Patient Financial Experience

No matter how good their clinical experience may have been, if patients have trouble making a payment in the health system’s financial system, they’ll become frustrated with the health system as a whole. It can cost health systems time and money, risking overall patient satisfaction and revenue. This is where user experience design comes in. 

User Experience (UX) professionals are always on the lookout for potential usability pitfalls as people interact with software applications. By understanding how users interact with an application and by paying attention to things that might be confusing, UX professionals create user interface (UI) designs that are not only easy to use but also delight users. 

For Scott Houle, VisitPay’s Manager of User Experience Design and Research, being a user experience designer is a bit like being a detective and an inventor all in one. To be successful, you have to dig into “the why” to answer “the how.” It’s the approach he’s taken working on everything from performance-enhancing software for Porsches, to Windows Phone 7, to portable ultrasound machines. We sat down with him to learn how user design improves the patient financial experience.

VisitPay: How does VisitPay bridge the gap between what consumers experience in their day-to-day lives and what they encounter from their health system?

Scott: Patients don’t stop being consumers when they put on a hospital gown. When patients interact with their health system, they expect the same high-quality, intuitive experience that they get from Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple. 

VisitPay’s UX research, analytics, and extensive benchmarking allow our clients to close the gap between what’s happening outside the healthcare industry and what patients expect from their healthcare provider. Bringing that insight into our design drives continuous improvements in the patient’s digital journey – making it faster, more efficient, and more comfortable for users interacting with VisitPay.

VisitPay: How does VisitPay’s user experience (UX) research make a difference to the patient experience?

Scott: If a health system fails to deliver the high-quality, consumer-centric experience patients expect, it’ll take a hit in both satisfaction and revenue. Additionally, when patients have difficulties completing a specific action, like making a payment, they’re likely to call customer service at the health system.

So our UX design team starts by taking into account the different steps in a patient’s workflow. We employ user testing to reveal where in that workflow patients experience difficulties. This information is essential because if a patient finds it easy to make a payment but challenging to log in, they may be less likely to use the portal in the future. These kinds of insights help us to continually improve VisitPay’s patient financial experience.

VisitPay: How relevant is the billing experience to the patient’s perception of the health system?

Scott: Any negative experience – it doesn’t matter if it’s during the clinical service, registration, or appointment setting process – can hurt an otherwise good user experience. It’s the whole experience that shapes a patient’s perception of the health system. Every step in the journey matters. 

The financial transaction is the final touch-point for patients. If a terrible bill pay experience is the last thing the patient encounters, then it will be the first thing they remember. When users interact with the VisitPay portal, the experience they have helps shape their perception of the health system overall. 

VisitPay: What’s the secret to achieving good UX design?

Scott: User design isn’t magic. A good user experience is achieved through the use of surveys, heuristic analysis, user testing, and listening to user comments. A well-designed product is the result of the whole user experience process coming together to create a superior journey. It’s an iterative process that drives you to rethink how people approach a task and how that task can be completed more efficiently. 

When a user struggles to complete an action, it might be because it involves an element they don’t understand or it could be that they are being distracted by another element, such as a blinking alert notification. Once we understand the underlying issue, we can develop an appropriate design solution to solve the problem. 

VisitPay: How do you measure the VisitPay patient financial experience? 

Scott: At VisitPay, we use survey questions to measure perceived time on a task, effort, and satisfaction. For example, we target specific high-priority tasks and ask users if the task took longer or shorter than they expected; or, if the task was easier or harder than they thought it should be to complete.

We also do usability studies where users are given specific tasks to complete. During these sessions, no guidance or support is given to the user. The objective is to observe how intuitive the software is to use. 

Usability studies reveal where users stumble. Deciphering why a user study participant encounters difficulty is where the fun begins. Usability testing shines a light on what changes need to be made so we can enhance the experience. Once we make the changes, we re-test the process to ensure we’ve resolved the usability issue.

VisitPay: Can you talk about VisitPay’s approach to human-centered design and innovation?

Scott: Fostering a culture of innovation stems from opening the door to feedback. Every health system and their patients come with their own particular needs and goals. The ability to empathize and understand the motivations of our clients and their patients is crucial. When adjustments are made to the VisitPay portal based on the insights gained from user and client feedback, it demonstrates how we’re listening to and prioritizing the patient’s experience.

VisitPay: What’s the process for making change recommendations?

Scott: I like to involve co-workers in our usability studies, either as participants or observers, to watch users complete tasks firsthand. Seeing how VisitPay users react to the VisitPay user interface is priceless. Everyone gets fired up, pushing to make changes because they’ve experienced the patient’s frustration firsthand. The patient’s survey comments come to life. 

In the end, a positive patient billing experience has the power to affect satisfaction ratings, improve patient retention and referrals, increase yield, and reduce expenses. VisitPay wants everyone who engages with the platform to come away feeling happy and satisfied. That’s why we strive to provide the best service for our clients and their patients. 

Learn more from our Meet the Experts series. 

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