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The VisitPay Blog | Building Better Financial Relationships

Addressing Healthcare Affordability to Better Serve Patients

Affordability has been deemed the most urgent health problem in our country. And it’s impacting our neighbors, families, and communities every day. We’ve all seen and heard stories about how unpaid hospital bills can lead to personal debt and bankruptcy. Such stories can be heartbreaking.

Yet at the same time, without dependable revenue streams, health systems can’t continue operations and serve communities.

VisitPay believes that a key step in addressing the affordability of care lies in understanding and meeting the needs of each patient. As such, we have carried out extensive direct research with patients since our inception, sometimes in small focus groups and other times through large scale national research. The 2020 VisitPay Report, our second annual quantitative study, reveals significant insights into what constitutes a more compassionate financial experience that benefits patients and providers. 

Dictating How Patients Pay: A Broken Model 

With the uptick in high-deductible insurance plans and an increase in under- or uninsured Americans, a one-size-fits-all approach to the financial experience no longer works. Yet providers often require all patients to pay bills, large or small, in full after services are rendered. With little to no flexibility, patients may have no choice but to not pay and end up in collections — an outcome that’s bad for both the patient and the health system. In recent years, a number of health systems have made headlines by suing patients over unpaid bills. Dr. Marty Makary, the author of The Price We Pay, suggests that as many as 36% of hospitals have filed such lawsuits.

Not all unpaid debt stems from low-income patients. According to Craig Antico, founder of the nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, “There is this new group of people who, on paper, look like they should be able to afford their bills. They’re middle-class, they have relatively good credit ratings, they’re not transient. But they have these big deductibles, and they can’t afford their bills.”

With one in seven families struggling with medical debt, the clinical and financial health of individuals is at risk. Also important, amidst the negative publicity, patients lose faith in the very institutions designed to keep them well. And no health system is immune from media attention.

How can health systems evolve the patient billing experience into a more compassionate one?

Understand the Needs of Individual Patients

Consumers have grown accustomed to convenience and transparency when purchasing goods and services in other industries. Yet healthcare finance remains complex, confusing, and impersonal – and often at odds with an exceptional clinical experience.

In the Amazon era, consumers expect convenience at every turn. There’s no exception for healthcare. VisitPay’s latest research shows that two-thirds of consumers use mobile devices to pay for medical bills. Moreover, the preference to receive bills via email rose an astonishing 36-points over 2018, from 16% to 52%.

The research also shows that clearing up confusion is critical to improving the financial experience so patients understand how much they owe and when to pay. In fact, the most appealing features of digital payment solutions are ones that provide greater visibility into costs, such as a view of the Explanation of Benefits (20%), a consolidated view of all hospital/physician charges (18%), and cost estimates (17%).

Patients expect to be treated as people. There are two ways of doing just that: 1) meet their expectations for convenience and 2) eliminate the confusion surrounding healthcare finance. By better understanding patients’ needs and behaviors, health systems can engage patients in more meaningful ways along the entire financial journey. 

Engage Patients Sooner, Give Them More Ways to Pay

By combining financial scoring and behavioral insights, health systems can tailor the right offer to the right patient at the right time, creating better financial outcomes for all.

The 2020 VisitPay Report shows that patients want health systems to discuss costs proactively at the point of care. Doing so leads to a more unified clinical and financial experience. If a health system waits to discuss costs until the end of a patient’s clinical journey, it’s a missed opportunity to work with patients based on their needs and preferences. 

Patients are also interested in creating payment plans that fit their budget. Almost one half (48%) of survey respondents were likely to enroll in a digital solution to pay for medical care. Of those with a high probability of enrolling in a digital payment solution, almost one-third are interested in financing medical costs.

Act Now: Read the 2020 VisitPay Report

A more personalized and compassionate billing approach will benefit patients and providers. It will help alleviate the worry associated with medical debt so patients can focus on managing their health. 

The intersection of financial and behavioral insights yields a powerful blueprint to meet patients on their terms. The 2020 VisitPay Report explains how health systems can better anticipate and meet the needs of patients – as individuals – and drive outstanding outcomes at the same time. 

Learn what 3,500 Americans have to say about healthcare costs.

Download the 2020 VisitPay Report.

Will Reilly

Will is the VP of Consumer and Client Marketing at VisitPay. A former marketing VP at IBM, he’s now turning his twenty years marketing and consulting experience to help push the envelope of financial health for both health systems and patients. Will hails from Banbury, Oxfordshire and never shies from an opportunity to use his British slang.

See all posts by Will