Transparency and Choice in Patient Financial Communications

Nick McLaughlin, Ridiculously Nice Sales and Business Development – Americollect and
Daniel Harris, Vice President Business Development – Apex Revenue Technologies

“In five years, the mailed patient statement will be dead.” “In ten years, ninety percent of your communication with patients will be via text message.” I have heard these claims made at conferences and in newsletters the last few years, but I’m not taking the bait to that extreme. It’s true, adoption of electronic notification (e-notification) of patient financial responsibility is growing more quickly than many anticipated. And it’s growing for some very interesting reasons that may seem counter-intuitive at first. This article will explore what we have observed in the marketplace, and what you can do to be prepared for the demands of tomorrow’s patients.

History
So what exactly is e-notification of patient financial responsibility? Nickster’s Dictionary defines it as “an email or text message notification to patients that lets them know that they have a bill, and includes a link to view that statement in an internet browser or mobile device.” Since e-notification options became available through the more innovative statement providers in the healthcare space, patient adoptions of these functions has been steady, but slow. Over the last ten years, providers that offer these options to patients have seen an adoption rate near 1%, maxing out at 4-5%. But in the last two years, growth in adoption rates has grown significantly with some providers seeing 10-15% adoption, and trending toward 25%.

Tipping Point?
Not only are some providers seeing 10-15% adoption of e-notifications and growing, they are also seeing as high as 20% of all patient payments coming in via mobile devices. Why so much growth all of a sudden? The theory was that e-notifications would become more popular as Millennials and Gen X-ers age into our healthcare systems, while the elderly have less patient responsibility. However, this theory did not take into account the widespread adoption of smart phones and technology by the Baby Boomer generation and older. (Haven’t you noticed grand-parents spending just as much time fiddling with their phones these days as teenagers?) Baby Boomers make up the largest percentage of our patients these days, and their growing comfort with technology and trust in technology has brought them to want to take advantage of the convenience e-notifications offer.

Why Not 100% Adoption?
Adoption of a more convenient and trustworthy option for notification of patient financial responsibility should just keep on growing until everybody uses it, right? We don’t think so. The fact remains that a very high percentage of the services done at hospitals are acute and unplanned. Our research shows that nearly 60% of the communications sent are for a single episode of care, and to a patient who has not been to the facility in over a year. In the world of e-commerce or online banking, if I use that website or bank regularly, chances are that I am going to “register” at checkout and take advantage of the conveniences that come along with that. Alternatively, if I’m buying something on a website that I don’t think I’m going to use again anytime soon, I’m probably just going to check out as a “guest.” We expect that pattern to apply to patients as well: regular patients will adopt e-notifications at a higher rate than patients who rarely come to the hospital.

Be Prepared
As electronic adoption continues to rise amongst all generations of patients, it is important that basic principles of consumerism be applied to the patient financial experience. Research shows that a patient can have an outstanding clinical experience with a provider, but if it is followed by a poor billing experience they are less likely to return to that provider for services in the future.

What does this look like in practice? Transparency and choices. Allowing patients the ability to easily manage their communication and payment channel preference will not only lead to a better patient overall financial experience , it will also lead to more patient payments being collected and increased rates of patient satisfaction.

98% of text messages are opened. The majority of these text messages are viewed in under 3 minutes. While electronic communications are not a perfect fit for every patient, offering them as a choice to the patients we have the pleasure of serving will not only lead to better results for all parties involved.

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