Consumers today use their smartphones for nearly every kind of purchase, from booking plane tickets and Airbnbs to ordering meals and shopping on Amazon. But when it comes to paying for healthcare services, we’re not quite there yet.
The red tape can be irritating for any patient, but especially for those with high-deductible plans who shoulder a larger share of their medical expenses and regularly pay out of pocket. Even if they had a great experience at your hospital or healthcare facility, patients can quickly be turned off by an inconvenient billing process that makes them jump through hoops to resolve payments.
Not only can this motivate them to look elsewhere the next time they need a healthcare service, but a negative interaction may also make them less likely to pay their medical bill in full. Offering more convenient payment options like online bill pay can improve this dynamic and encourage more prompt payments. So can providing more automated, self-service options.
Many service industries have already replaced disjointed and antiquated manual billing processes with mobile apps and integrated, automated systems. To compete in a market that is increasingly consumer-driven, healthcare must follow suit.
Here’s a look at some of the latest self-service technologies that are making it easier for patients to cover their medical bills:
Price transparency tools: Still in their infancy, online price transparency tools from some payers provide patients with pricing estimates for certain procedures in advance, so they can better understand their financial responsibility upfront and shop around for a better deal if necessary. Some tools even offer actual cost breakdowns for specific types of care, while others use historical claims data to help consumers compare costs and quality of care for procedures across different facilities and locations.
Kiosks: A staple of retail sectors, kiosks are also popping up in many hospitals, pharmacies and clinics, with their numbers expected to reach more than 36,000 by 2020, according to a 2015 report by IHS Technology. Providers use them to speed up the registration process, update records, triage patients, dispense patient education, and set up future appointments and payments. In public settings, they can provide quick healthcare consults for busy consumers. Similarly, kiosks that connect to an electronic payment system and online patient portals can expedite the payment process for patients, enabling them to swipe their credit card or enter payment detail information into the device to make an instant payment that notifies providers upon receipt. Kiosks can also keep patients informed of outstanding balances on their accounts by printing out updated statements for them.
Mobile payment: “Kiosks in a pocket”—aka mobile payment applications—make it easier for providers to collect payments from patients at the bedside or from anywhere in their facility. They also give patients the freedom to pay their medical bills like they pay most other bills—at whatever time and place is most convenient for them. Apps can also help patients manage their balances better by allowing them to pay in full or set up their own payment plans and track what they owe in real-time. They even have the potential to provide patients with discounts for paying early or more flexible payment options.
As easy and convenient as self-service technologies are for collecting payments from patients, they also put providers at increased risk for payment fraud, data breaches and other issues inherent in the security, regulatory and compliance obligations of emerging payment systems.
Not only must providers take intentional steps to secure payment information for consumers and protect patient privacy, but they also must ensure that the technologies they use comply with HIPAA and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to avoid fines and possible lawsuits.
Outsourcing self-pay to a vendor with the knowledge and resources to minimize risks and establish the proper controls for receiving payments can remove this burden for hospitals, so they can focus on embracing modern technologies and improving other critical arms of the revenue cycle.