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HIMSS Analytics survey shows patients want convenient payment options

The call for cost estimates is getting louder, patients don't mind keeping a credit card on file, and varied payment options.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Consumerism is here to stay and some of the changes it is driving, especially within a provider's revenue cycle, could mean the difference between watching your patient ranks and bottom line swell or go flat. And providers would be well-served to move faster to adopt them than they are now.

The 2018 Patient Payment Check-Up, which was conducted by HIMSS Analytics for Waystar, compared varying perceptions in provider attitude and behavior, those who bill for healthcare, and patients. Nearly 900 respondents from provider facilities and 1,000 patients were surveyed with a focus on three key areas: cost estimates and collections, financial communications and billing methods.

The advent of high-deductible health plans are one of the starkest changes to hit the healthcare industry, with patients taking on more financial responsibility for their healthcare than ever before and therefore scrutinizing the quality and value of their patient experience more closely.

Consumer habits are changing, thanks to the "digital convenience" they enjoy in other areas of including banking and retail. When it comes to healthcare, high-deductible health plans have added major force behind to the wave sweeping the industry as patients are paying more for their healthcare than ever before, and therefore paying more attention to the quality and cost of care they receive. 

It is no surprise then that the call for cost estimates is getting louder and the survey results reflect that. It even influenced whether patients would recommend their providers to others. 

First, when receiving a cost estimate 46 percent of patients said they'd be more likely to pay a bigger portion of their bill up front, before or during the time of service and 68 percent said they'd be more likely to return for future care. What's more, 69 percent said they'd be more likely to recommend the organization to a friend. 

Despite the demand, providers lag behind when it comes to meeting it, as 87 percent of providers have the ability to share cost estimates but only 18 percent of patients currently get one without asking. Looking ahead, 60 percent of patients said they will ask for one in the future, the survey said.

The ongoing digitization of patient communication could be highly beneficial to patients  and providers, including clarifying patient financial obligations and other important communications. While 84 percent of patients feel as obligated to pay for healthcare services as other services, 35 percent of patients said it's inconvenient to pay for healthcare services. That's a 15 percent increase from 2017. Another duality is that providers said they only collect about a third of patient reimbursements, but patients said they pay all their bills.

The method by which consumers prefer to pay is also rapidly evolving, and while credit or debit card is the preferred method of payment for both patient and provider, offering varied payment options is more convenient for patients and boosts the provider's revenue cycle. For example,  about a third of patients 75 and older said they'd rather pay their next bill using a credit card kept on file, or CCOF. 

However, patients may not be aware of all their payment options, as 49 percent of providers offer payment plans, almost 22 percent offered credit lines, 42 percent have an online bill pay option and some allow patients to keep a CCOF to pay small balances. 

"A growing number of provider respondents in 2018 (compared to our 2017 survey) believe CCOF and automated payment plans will improve collections overall, reduce days in AR, bad debt and write-offs. Consumer credit lines are less preferred than last year," HIMSS said.

However, this was another area where providers were lagging behind the demand as survey respondents said they were offered only a couple of these options during their last visit.

"Healthcare consumerism is here to stay, reflected in continued demand for revenue cycle convenience from patients. Providers, while making progress, continue to face challenges in meeting those demands," HIMSS said. "Younger patients will continue to further push the expectations of digital convenience; by the same token, over time younger providers will likely build and grow practices with digital convenience in mind."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com

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