Digital financial engagement offers significant opportunities to reach patients early in the financial stage of their encounter while lowering administrative costs.
As inflation reaches its fastest pace in 40 years, rural populations are feeling the pinch of higher prices for essentials like food, rent and gasoline acutely. Consequently, there is greater competition for limited dollars, which results in payment delays or defaults on monies owed.
Growing economic challenges are putting pressure on rural healthcare revenue cycle departments to engage patients early and give them confidence that they can manage the cost of their care. In addition, tighter operational margins are driving the need for systems and infrastructures that drive efficiency in self-pay collections while reducing the cost of financial engagement.
Digital financial engagement offers significant opportunities to reach patients early in the financial stage of their encounter, when fears about the “sticker shock” of care are highest, while lowering administrative costs like paper statements and postage.
For MainStreet Family Care, a leading provider of urgent care to rural residents in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, the move to digital-first notification of payment in 2019 resulted in an 11% decrease in paper statements—eliminating $6 per statement cycle to send. It also improved revenue capture, growing digital payment collections to 7% of all patient payments.
Notably, most digital payments are now sent within seven days of a text notification that payment is due, with 62% of these payments made the day of text notification and 84% sent within three days.
But there is more to engaging rural patients in digital payment than simply sending an electronic notification via patients’ smartphones. MainStreet Family Care’s experience points to nuances in digitally activating patient financial behavior in rural populations.
These four lessons learned stand out:
Key to relieving consumers’ anxiety around the cost of their care: Make sure payment options—including the ability to self-enroll in a payment plan or apply for charity care—are clearly visible and easy to navigate. This helps boost consumers’ confidence that they can manage the cost of their care on their own terms from the comfort of home. In addition, use vendor solutions that accommodate a five-digit short code as opposed to a full phone number. This differentiator is critical to signaling that the text is coming from reputable source and is not spam.
A more modern approach to rural healthcare payment
Early this year, there were signs that consumers were tapping into savings to pay for basic necessities. It’s a scenario that is likely to hit rural consumers harder than those in urban settings—and it could increase apprehension regarding whether to seek care and how to pay for it. The right digital approach to payment can help ease financial concerns by providing the information people need as soon as it is available and giving them the tools to manage the cost of their care. By taking a careful approach to messaging and providing seamless avenues for bill management and payment, rural healthcare organizations can more quickly activate patient financial engagement, providing positive experiences that strengthen cash flow.
Drew Smith is director of revenue cycle for MainStreet Family Care.
Jeb Burrows is senior vice president, business development for AccessOne.