When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the healthcare industry found itself scrambling, stretched thin, and pushed to the limits to provide care for the millions of people affected. But the financial health of the very organizations helping these patients has been threatened as well. The COVID economy has made medical bills impossible for many, and this has created a payment gap in the financial well being of health systems around the country. VisitPay is working to help health systems recover, adapt, and succeed in this new reality.
Ryne Natzke, VP of Strategic Accounts and Healthcare at Sphere, a VisitPay partner specializing in end-to-end integrated payments, has unique expertise and insights into the financial side of healthcare. He laid out a clear outline for what health systems need to do in order to adjust to the current climate.
“None of these are new needs,” he clarified. “This is the direction that the entire industry has been going and, really, the entire payment experience regardless of industry has been going. But, due to COVID, a lot has been accelerated. What used to be a nice-to-have is becoming required as there’s more of a financial crunch for these providers as their patients are battling with competing financial commitments in the current recession.”
So, says Natzke, what was a natural transformation for the industry has arrived as mandatory overnight. But, he says, there are three clear objectives a health system can follow to navigate the COVID economy and succeed financially.
1. Manage Costs
First, Natzke says, search for redundancies. “Look for duplicative processes or systems such as multiple Electronic Patient Records and multiple payment portals. Things that are really doing the same thing but maybe cover different locations or business lines,” he said. Consolidate any of those services with the providers or vendors you use, if possible.
Another way to manage costs is by digitizing—a key industry transformation that’s been a long time coming. By going digital, you’ll cut costs on things like paper statements, he said. By offering self-service options, you’ll lower call center volume, allowing your staff the time to prioritize work that is most needed.
2. Provide Clarity
The second objective Natzke identified is the need to drive more revenue. “Healthcare really doesn’t have a demographic,” said Natzke. “And patients are used to multiple forms of payments. Opening up additional channels that mimic how they make payments in other industries will make things easier for patients.” And this can encourage patients to pay bills in a timelier manner. By tailoring your communications in email and text, you make the payment process clear for patients.
Health systems need to reestablish and maintain a viable cash flow and reaching consumers where they are is very effective in doing that. Transparency and flexibility can also help encourage payments. “Providing clear estimates upfront,” said Natzke, “and collecting a down payment or setting up a payment plan before their visit shifts payment action toward the beginning.”
3. Offer the Right Tools
The third adjustment that Natzke says health systems need to make is very connected to the first two: both managing costs and providing clarity. Natzke’s final piece of advice is for health systems to provide patients with the right tools to make it as easy as possible for them to make their payments. These tools are made to remove barriers—from inconvenience to inability to pay the full bill.
“There aren’t one-size-fits-all payment plans,” said Natzke. “You want to provide tools for the patients and the staff to direct the right plans and the right payment options to meet the patient’s needs. Additionally, more self-service options give patients the opportunity to pay when it makes sense for them.”
Implementing the Three Lessons to Navigate the COVID Economy
“Evaluating your payment infrastructure,” said Natzke, “can really help attack this on three different fronts: decreasing your costs, increasing clarity, and making your patients happier.” And that trifecta should be the goal for all health systems.