A digital payment strategy benefits the patient and streamlines operations
Health care payments have long been a major source of friction for both providers and patients—and in today’s challenging landscape, healthcare businesses can no longer afford the status quo. From these challenges, though, we see an incredible opportunity for health care providers to streamline the payment experience by leveraging innovative payment technologies and skilled partners. Overcoming the administrative burden of yesterday’s payments technologies creates opportunities to deliver immediate, simple, and convenient payment experiences during what is, for many patients, a stressful time.
Patients commonly struggle to make sense of their medical bills, and according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of U.S. adults experience challenges when financing their health care. The complexities of health care billing can result in inaccuracies that compound these difficulties. Research from PYMNTS found that 60% of patients would consider switching providers after receiving an incorrect cost estimate or surprise bill, showing that hiccups during the payment experience can have a critical impact on patient loyalty.
Though health care providers may have less control than they’d like over the intricacies of the billing process, they can do more to ensure the payment experience goes smoothly whether patients are paying a bill or receiving a refund for overpayment. That means reimagining health care payments as a fully integrated digital experience that helps to eliminate preventable frictions while reducing the costs and burden of their payment operations.
Health care payments lag behind the digital curve
While the pandemic accelerated many aspects of digital transformation in health care, from telemedicine to AI, many providers aren’t up to speed with consumers’ preference for digital payments. According to findings from US Bank, 85% of consumers prefer to use an electronic payment method for their medical bills, 37% want to be able to pay via an online portal, and 32% want the option to use a mobile app. In addition, 70% of consumers prefer digital or electronic payments when receiving disbursements, such as health care refunds, according to Onbe’s 2023 Future of Payments Report.
Patients rightfully expect payments to be part of the digital continuum they may already experience with their medical provider—from mobile appointment setting to online test results. But they don’t always get the start-to-finish digital journey they’re looking for. For instance, a 2022 Onbe poll of health care providers revealed that 85% of providers supported check-based patient refunds, but just 37% offered cash back to a patient’s card, and only two in 10 provided the option of a physical or virtual card.
Improving the patient experience with faster refunds
Providing patients with a seamless payment experience is essential whether they are paying a bill or receiving an overpayment refund. But the refund experience is especially important because the patient is being returned their own money. Ensuring they get their refund as soon as possible can help alleviate any financial stress they may be experiencing. But checks, the most common refund method, often take days or weeks to process and arrive in the mail. If the patient’s address on file is no longer up-to-date, delivery issues can create additional delays.
By switching to a modern payouts gateway with the patient’s choice of payment method, health care providers can deliver digital refunds with immediate access to funds. Refunds can be sent securely via email, meeting most consumers’ preference for digital communications about their payments, according to the Future of Payments Report. Patients can leverage popular choices such as bank transfers or adding funds to a mobile wallet, benefiting from flexibility and convenience when accessing and spending their refund.
Reducing the administrative costs and burden of health care payments
Amid industry challenges such as staff shortages and shrinking margins, health care organizations can also save labor and resources by switching to digital payments. Again, outgoing payments are the area where practices will likely see the greatest impact. According to AFP’s 2022 Payments Cost Benchmarking Survey,the median cost of writing a check is as high as $4, and sending checks has the highest labor cost compared to other common forms of payment, such as ACH. When checks go uncashed, health care organizations are responsible for following up with patients and adhering to their state’s escheatment regulations if funds remain unclaimed.
With a digital-first payment strategy, these administrative processes can be more easily automated and streamlined, saving time for your busy team. Health care organizations can reduce their costs by offering popular lower-cost payment options, such as ACH and virtual cards. By replacing checks with more secure payment methods, providers can also lower their fraud risk and the high costs of managing fraud incidents. AFP reports that 65% of businesses were victims of payments fraud in 2022, and checks were the most vulnerable payment method. Health care providers can protect themselves and their patients by switching to a digital solution offering features such as payment authentication and built-in fraud controls.
Today’s modern payout gateway options enable health care providers to implement a new solution relatively simply instead of integrating with multiple payment providers. With a single point of integration, your team can accommodate a variety of payment choices ranging from instant, digital payments to more traditional methods, including checks, without needing to take additional steps to fulfill these choices in-house. The ability to accommodate patients’ preferences can differentiate health care organizations in an industry where most practices still don’t have that flexibility.
Differentiating through the payment experience
As expectations for health care payments evolve, upgrading to a digital-first approach will become increasingly essential for providers to keep up with the convenience patients experience in other aspects of their lives. For now, digital payments remain an area where health care organizations can stand out by providing a more personalized and seamless payment experience—which contributes to a better patient experience, overall. High patient experience scores don’t just mean happier patients; according to Deloitte, the patient experience is closely linked to financial performance, with higher-scoring health care organizations realizing more profits.
While practices continue to face administrative challenges and billing complexities, the growing number of solutions at their fingertips, health care organizations can make relatively simple changes to the payment experience that result in measurable improvements for their patients, team and bottom line.
Melissa Hentschel is the chief client officer at Onbe.