In the rush to open their digital front doors, some health systems have forgotten to include a crucial component — digital options for care payment.
The failure to do so could lead to slower collection times, create a disjointed patient financial experience, and result in decreased patient satisfaction and loyalty, said Christopher Johnson, Atrium Health’s vice president of revenue cycle management, during a presentation that took place last week at the HIMSS conference in Chicago.
But making payment a part of the digital front door doesn’t have to happen all at once, he pointed out. His health system took a multi-year approach.
Atrium began integrating payment options into its digital front door in 2017 when it began letting patients self-enroll in payment plans online. Within one year, Atrium achieved a 52% increase in payment plan participation, 67% reduction in customer service response times and 8% decrease in bad debt, he said.
In 2019, the health system allowed patients to request price estimates for healthcare services online, with the option to connect with live support if they needed. And then in 2021, Atrium gave patients the ability to self-enroll in patient financing through the health system’s patient portal. This allowed patients to better understand which low-interest and no-interest options were available to them, Johnson pointed out.
Since giving patients the option to self-enroll in patient financing plans directly through its patient portal, Atrium has seen 14,644 users apply for payment plans for the first time, Johnson declared.
Continuing its staggered approach, Atrium initiated a text-to-payment feature last year. This feature sends patients a text when their bill is ready and shares a link that allows them to make their payment directly — without having to log into any sort of portal. Since June, $6 million dollars have been collected from this mobile pay program, and 40,000 paper statements have been eliminated, Johnson said. The program currently has a 15% patient response rate, he added.
For other health systems looking to offer digital payment options, Johnson had four pointers.
The first is to adopt a patient-centric mindset to digital payment design. Health systems should test digital payment options with a patient focus group before going live across the enterprise, Johnson suggested.
The next tip health systems should know is that they need to look for a digital payment platform that seamlessly integrates into their workflows and operations. There are a lot of payment technology vendors out there, but they’re not all built to fit into a hospital’s existing infrastructure, Johnson warned.
Health systems should also conduct broad patient education before launching text-to-pay options, Johnson recommended. Otherwise, patients may think the texts they’re receiving from their health system are scam messages.
The last pointer Johnson gave was to evaluate ways to optimize the electronic health record for a better patient financial experience.
“You can have a phenomenal clinical experience, but we as healthcare providers can lose the game if we don’t get your patient financial experience right,” he explained.
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