By Craig Hodges
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, negative financial implications for both providers and patients increase. Health systems are suffering unprecedented losses, an estimated $200 billion, while patients delay care due to financial insecurity and health concerns. What the new normal will look like, no one knows, but healthcare organizations need to be financially stable to serve their communities, and patients need to know that access to care they can afford is available today.
The widening affordability gap and rise in high-deductible health plans have pushed patients to assume more financial responsibility for their medical care. With this additional responsibility, consumers have taken a more active role in both their clinical and financial journey. Now with many patients experiencing financial insecurity due to the COVID-19 crisis, increased patient financial responsibility is becoming a key driver of provider financial stability.
As a result, healthcare providers can no longer be singularly focused on the clinical experience and payer reimbursement and expect optimal financial results. Their strategies must include caring for a patient’s financial health. Patient financial care, including helping patients afford out-of-pocket expenses, is a proven way to reduce delays in care, attract new patients and build volume. To do this successfully, providers should apply best practices in consumer communication and engagement to the healthcare financial experience by deploying digital tactics and high-touch human interaction to drive the cash, and patient loyalty, providers need.
Removing affordability as an obstacle to care
Prior to the pandemic, patients were already absorbing much of the out-of-pocket medical costs. The increased financial strain from the economic shut down has put even more pressure on patients, causing many to make healthcare decisions based on financial rather than clinical health needs. When providers offer flexible payment options to their patients, they are able to remove a primary obstacle to timely access to care.
Patient financing solutions also offer clear benefits to providers. They can generate the reliable revenue needed to uphold their organizations’ mission to promote health and wellness in their communities while improving the likelihood of collecting patient-owed balances.
When Floyd Health System, a 325-bed hospital system based in Rome, GA, offered flexible payment options to patients, they quickly saw a significant increase in cash flow and patient satisfaction, while similar health systems struggled because they had not prioritized removing affordability as a barrier to care.
One of the keys to Floyd’s success is offering patients a payment plan that is always 0.00% interest. An interest-free program at Floyd means there is no application, no impact on credit score and no threat of deferred interest found in other programs. Floyd patients only pay the amount on their bills, nothing more.
As a result, more patients get the payment help, and care, they need, And, because default is much lower in an interest-free program, collections are much higher, and providers like Floyd see a demonstrable ROI net of any fees they pay for the program.
Deploying a comprehensive patient financing program
Offering patients access to zero interest, long-term payment plans builds increased patient volume and loyalty when the proper engagement strategy is deployed. This strategy includes engaging all patients who may need help – not just those who pro-actively ask for a payment plan – and leveraging the right communication tactic that will engage each patient to drive the best result.
In an ideal scenario, a patient who knows they cannot pay their balance in full asks about payment options and agrees to pay through the available payment plan program. This works for patients who are ready and able to make payment arrangements while they are talking with a provider.
However, many times, patients walk into financial discussions distracted, scared and unsure about their insurance coverage and what they could owe. As a result, most patients do not make payment plan arrangements at the time of service and are unlikely to ask about them once they are removed from the clinical experience.
Unfortunately, the likely outcome for these accounts is collections activity for the patient and increased debt for the provider. A best-in-class solution engages patients that opt into a plan, as well as those who have not responded to traditional pay-in-full efforts and are at risk of collections.
Offering Omni-Channel Engagement
Today, the healthcare financial experience starts as early as scheduling and registration. Unfortunately, the time between that first discussion and the patient’s first bill can be long, leading to reduced engagement and payments. To maximize engagement, digital outreach should start soon after the first interaction with the provider and continue as the patient is discharged, while their claim is processing and throughout the billing experience.
Starting communication early and maintaining consistent engagement reduces the payment latency that leads to increased days in A/R. While early engagement leveraging digital tactics is the best practice, not all patients respond to a digital-only strategy. Omni-channel campaigns include all forms of communications, including email, text, live agents, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and traditional mail, to ensure all patients are engaged and more patients pay.
For example, notifications and payment options through text and email typically have a high response rate because they allow for quick and frequent communication of important billing and payment information.
However, for most providers, a digital-only approach will leave patients behind. Many people need human support and physical mail to make payments, especially among the older patients. To drive the most collections and patient satisfaction, an omni-channel approach is required.
When patient financial health is prioritized through affordable payment options for all who need them, and patients are engaged using the right tactics at the right time, providers see fewer gaps in care as well as increased revenue and patient loyalty.
Craig Hodges is the CEO of patient financing company CarePayment, which partners with providers to increase revenues by offering a comprehensive solution that engages patients at risk for collections and 0.00% financing for all patients in need of care. CarePayment also helps providers increase cash flow by funding balances immediately or after one payment.