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Retail platforms are changing patients’ expectations for digital tools

Article

What providers can do to improve the patient experience.

abstract digital health representation | © greenbutterfly - stock.adobe.com

© greenbutterfly - stock.adobe.com

Patients are increasingly looking for their healthcare providers to deliver the type of convenient and easy-to-use digital tools that they have come to depend on in industries like retail, banking, and groceries. At the same time, patients have grown more aware of – and increasingly dissatisfied with - healthcare’s digital deficiencies, which often create a time-consuming, confusing, and overly complicated experience. Too often, providers are unable to offer the flexibility and transparency that patients rely on from other suppliers of goods and services.

Consumers have embraced the speed and convenience of online retailers like Amazon and Wayfair, and now expect the same experience from their healthcare providers. Adding to patient demands for a more consumer-like approach to healthcare consumption is the proliferation of high-deductible health plans and growing concerns about medical debt.

For provider organizations, among the most significant implications of consumerization involves “a broad shift in focus from the healthcare market as a whole to individual healthcare consumers,” according to consulting firm Mercer. Often, that starts with providing digital patient engagement and payment tools that enable patients to have the type of flexible and user-friendly experiences they get elsewhere in their day-to-day lives.

Greater patient satisfaction, higher volumes
In healthcare, these digital tools give patients the ability to self-schedule appointments, take advantage of modern payment options, obtain pre-service cost estimates, and gain greater flexibility when paying for high-cost bills.

Following are four digital engagement and payment tools that providers can adopt to deliver more transparency and convenience and improve the patient experience.

  • Self-scheduling: Consumers have come to expect the ability to self-schedule events online, such as dinner reservations, oil changes, and hairstyling appointments, and increasingly look for providers to offer online appointment scheduling. When providers give patients the option to self-schedule appointments, rather than requiring them to call for appointments during the workday, they can reduce barriers to care and improve patient satisfaction.
  • Pre-service check-in and cost estimates: Online pre-service check-ins enable patients to confirm important data – such as demographic information, insurance and benefits coverage, copay, and service amount estimate based on visit type – prior to a telehealth or in-person visit. With pre-service cost estimates, providers can collect co-pay and out-of-pocket costs at check-in, while at the same time storing the patient’s credit card information to automatically bill for any balance due.
  • Expanded, next-generation payment methods: Retailers have long met consumer expectations by offering flexibility in how payments are made, and now providers are starting to do the same. Some providers have begun to embrace next-generation payment methods such as digital wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay, as well as buy-now-pay-later (BNPL)installment plans – both of which can help patients plan for high out-of-pocket costs associated with medications or procedures. BNPL installments, for example, are expected to account for nearly a quarter of all global ecommerce transactions by 2026, up from just 9% in 2021, according to Juniper Research. Though the growth of digital wallets, BNPL plans, and installment plans in healthcare has lagged behind other industries, these methods will continue to grow in popularity as patients increasingly expect their healthcare providers to accept the same payment methods as other merchants.
  • Flexible payment plans: The benefits to patients of payment plans are obvious: they enable patients to access care they may have otherwise had to forego due to high costs. As opposed to paying all at once up-front, patients gain the opportunity to pay over a period of time, potentially enabling them to access care earlier before their medical conditions grow worse and become more expensive to manage. For providers, patient financing needs become an important consideration for procedures that are not covered by insurance, such as elective services, which patients must pay for out of their own pockets. By offering payment plans, providers increase the likelihood of payment for delivery of high-cost procedures, whether up-front or over a specified time period.

The retail industry may be ahead of healthcare in adopting flexible digital engagement and payment tools, but most providers have begun to realize the importance of catering to their patients’ consumer demands. Providers who can distinguish themselves from their peers by delivering a superior, more transparent, retail-like consumer experience have the potential to drive greater patient satisfaction and even higher patient volumes.

Ryne Natzke is Chief Revenue Officer at TrustCommerce, a Sphere Company.

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