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Optimizing patient payments in the Covid-19 era: 3 key questions providers must ask


Providers can reap the rewards of a digital transformation that boosts efficiency and profitability, but they must first invest in the right technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to providers’ finances and operations, leading some to make highly publicized changes such as temporarily closing facilities, limiting services, accelerating the transition toward virtual patient visits, and managing staff remotely.

Similarly, the pandemic resulted in additional challenges for providers that were just as substantial but attracted relatively less attention like engaging with patients, minimizing the cost of collections, and maintaining seamless billing processes. While some of these challenges may subside over time, the healthcare industry—like the world —is unlikely to ever entirely return to how things were before the pandemic.

For example, consumer preferences and behavior are likely to “guide the reemergence” of the industry, according to Deloitte. Consumer behavior in healthcare is anticipated to undergo numerous changes, such as greater demand for virtual services and self-service, as well as remote tasks such as appointment check-in and payments. Smart healthcare organizations will focus on meeting consumers where they are to deliver care on their terms.

As it relates to the patient experience, catering to consumer demand for greater convenience can take many forms. These include adopting touchless, mobile patient check-in, intake, and payment experiences; integrating payments with practice management and electronic health records systems; providing personalized estimates of co-pays and charges based on patient insurance coverage prior to visits; automating messages for appointment reminders, bills, and electronic statements; and delivering patients the option of maintaining a “tokenized” card on file to simplify payment and collections.

Preparing for new consumer demand: 3 key questions

As providers prepare for new consumer demands in the COVID-19 era, there are three key questions they should ask:

  • Are the COVID-19 precautions temporary, or will they meet the new demands of consumers?
  • Were the changes the right ones?
  • Is the organization prepared for the long-term?

Are the COVID-19 precautions you put in place temporary, or will they meet the new demand of consumers?

At the onset of the pandemic, many provider organizations had little choice but to adjust operations virtually overnight as elective procedures were canceled, support staff began working remotely, preventative appointments were canceled, and telemedicine replaced office visits. As a result, parking lots became waiting rooms (or even exam rooms), exam rooms became a place for point of service payments, and living rooms became call centers. While the way healthcare providers adopted to the challenges of the pandemic were intended to be short-term, the demand for a more streamlined experience and employee workplace are far from temporary.

For example, mobile and contactless payment options are likely to remain popular with consumers. Telehealth appointments are by-definition cashless, which gave patients greater exposure to the option during the pandemic when office visits were not an option for many. For providers, automated electronic billing solutions bill patients once a claim is adjudicated and can be set up to recur at desired intervals until payment is received. Additionally, online bill payment provides patients with a self-service payment portal that enables them to receive bills and pay with their preferred card. Consumers have embraced mobile, contactless payment due to convenience, efficiency, and safety.

Were the changes the right ones?

During times when some states and municipalities entered lockdown, telehealth became the best option for many patients to remain connected to their doctors without exposing them to the risk of interacting with other sick patients at doctors’ offices. To what extent demand will remain for telehealth as vaccination becomes more widespread is unclear, but many patients will certainly at least expect to be presented the option of a virtual visit.

After quickly and unexpectedly accelerating telehealth visits in early 2020, many providers are now evaluating their long-term telehealth futures. Much of that assessment involves optimizing workflows for telehealth. Telehealth platforms should integrate with other solutions that support touchless, mobile check-in and payment; pre-appointment insurance verification, price estimates and reminders; digital receipts; and automated billing.

Is the organization prepared for the long-term?

While some regulations have been adjusted to accommodate patient needs during a time of uncertainty and remain subject to change, it is important for providers to develop a long-term plan that matches the reality of what consumers expect today. That means prioritizing flexibility, convenience, security, mobility, and ease-of-use while also meeting stricter guidelines around patient privacy and data security.

Providers need technology that features broad payment-acceptance functionality, elite-level security, and expert support throughout the payments lifecycle, in addition to payment solutions that integrate seamlessly with electronic health records systems to facilitate payments from all channels, while making reconciliation easy. Seamless integrations means that healthcare providers can leverage the security and functionality of their EHR system, in addition to secure payment solutions, in a way that is transparent to both patient and provider.

Although it’s too early to say which of the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to healthcare are temporary or permanent, it’s a safe bet that consumer demand for telehealth and convenient digital solutions such as contactless payment and mobile check-in will persist. Providers can reap the rewards of a digital transformation that boosts efficiency and profitability, but they must first invest in the right technology.

About the Author
Ryne Natzke is Senior Vice President of Growth and Strategy for Sphere, where he is responsible for managing Sphere’s integrated health and payment strategy and largest, strategic accounts across Sphere’s key verticals, including both large merchants and software partners.
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