Hospitals Need New Approaches for Attracting Cost-Conscious Consumers Starting with Payment

By Mark Spinner, President and CEO, AccessOne
Twitter: @myaccessone

For one out of three consumers, inflation is the top reason they fear being unable to pay for an unexpected medical expense. Yet consumers want to prioritize health and fitness spending in the year ahead, an Accenture survey found. In fact, 80% plan to maintain or increase their healthcare spending in 2023 despite concerns about the economy.

For healthcare organizations, these statistics are indicative of the need to more broadly communicate patient payment solutions to retain cost-conscious consumers and remain competitive.

Extending Financial Care—Regardless of Income Level

In a cost-sensitive environment, initiating financial communications before care is needed is essential to providing a positive patient financial experience. Today, half of consumers are dipping into savings to pay everyday expenses. Building confidence in their financial ability to afford care could be key to encouraging them to follow through on their health needs and goals. It’s also a proactive way to protect an organization’s bottom line.

Here are three considerations for proactive financial communications in a turbulent economy.

  1. Take a fresh look at your digital communications. When consumers pull up your organization’s mobile app, are they able to access cost information for common procedures? Could they calculate their out-of-pocket costs? Even better: Could they reach someone on the customer service side of revenue cycle to determine what they might owe after care is delivered and options for paying for their care? The more consumers know about the financial cost of care before scheduling a service or procedure, the more likely they will be to follow through with their care plans. Moreover, with a plan in place for payment, the better positioned they will be to accept financial responsibility for their care. That’s especially true at a time when prices for food at home have risen 12.2% between 2021 and 2022 alone and energy prices have increased 41.6% over the same period, the largest 12-month rise in energy costs since April 1980, according to Deloitte. Given that 83% of consumers worldwide have smartphones, ramping up digital entry points for financial communications should be part of a modern revenue cycle playbook.
  2. Examine whether options for patient financial assistance are the right options for a volatile economic environment. When times get tough, healthcare consumers need to know they have the flexibility to request financial assistance when they face trouble paying their bill or fear they will be unable to manage a needed healthcare expense. Make sure information regarding financial assistance—including how to apply—is readily available across channels, from your patient portal to mobile apps to your organization’s website and waiting rooms for patient registration or care. Train customer service staff in how to navigate conversations around out-of-pocket costs now that more consumers are feeling the pinch of inflation. Stress the ways in which proactive conversations demonstrate compassion for the individual at a time when they may feel especially vulnerable. Ensure your organization offers a range of options for payment, including payment plans, and build in time for conversations around payment options before and after care is received. This helps eliminate fear and confusion before care is received and establishes a plan of action that patients are comfortable with while increasing the likelihood of payment.
  3. Assess whether payment solutions meet consumers’ expectations—and your own. A recent survey found just 58% of healthcare providers are satisfied with their patient payment solution, especially during a time of economic hardship. Key attributes providers wish they had: platforms and solutions that are easier to use and offer a wider variety of digital payment options, like Apple Pay. On the consumer side, 54% are interested in email or text-to-payment options, and 43% would explore automated digital payments. Making healthcare payment easier for consumers not only enhances consumer convenience, but also helps increase speed to payment. One tip: Give patients the ability to combine their healthcare accounts into a single bill for a more seamless approach to medical bill management.

By taking a fresh look at patient payment options in an inflationary environment, health systems could uncover new ways to provide patient financial service that builds trust with consumers and gives them the confidence they need to pursue care. Such an approach also strengthens loyalty as well as the organization’s bottom line.