By Michael Peluso, CTO at Rectangle Health
Automation of everyday experiences has changed consumer expectations in nearly every sector. From how goods are ordered to how bills are paid, there are certain efficiencies that have become normal for everyday transactions, and we are seeing this pervade healthcare, too.
The modern healthcare practice capitalizes on technology to serve patients better and ease the burden on staff. Status quo may be comfortable, but change can be liberating. It’s getting people over the hurdle of “what you’re doing is just fine” that creates results, especially when practices face staffing and resource challenges.
Many healthcare organizations have taken strides toward improving patient experience—and empowering providers to deliver better service—through digital transformation. Embracing technology, however, isn’t always second nature. Resisting change is common in this sector, an unintentional roadblock to challenging inefficiencies and counterproductive to improving the experience of patients and providers alike.
One reason that automation hasn’t been as widely adopted in healthcare as it has in other industries is that most care is still delivered in person. Having your teeth cleaned or a broken bone set and cast requires physical contact from a provider, however administrative functions that accompany these procedures can be simplified by technology.
Automation is a top corporate driver to protect or improve profit margins and scalability, as attested in the 2022 EY US CEO Survey. For example, insurance companies have made this investment. They poured billions of dollars into automating the process of having a claim sent their way and returning payment to providers. When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed in 1996, it standardized this transaction set to improve efficiency.
While every healthcare provider is required to adopt this national standard, many have not built upon it to create efficiencies for their practices, such as allowing patients a way to make online payments or pay on an installment plan.
Why providers should challenge status quo with automation
Change can be daunting, especially when it requires learning quickly to adapt to evolving patient needs, but it is often beneficial. According to a recent study conducted by PYMNTS.com, an increasing number of patients are looking for a connected experience with their healthcare providers.
More than half of bridge millennial (ages 33-43) or younger respondents are interested in receiving and responding to email or text notifications about appointments (66%) and payments (60%), receiving digital versions of test results and medical history (both 68%), and filling out forms digitally (60%). Interest in all of these methods increased since the first iteration of the survey in 2020.
Many providers don’t realize the extent to which patients want these digital tools until after deciding to implement them and having that “ah ha!” moment. Fifty-seven percent of bridge millennial (ages 33-43) or younger respondents are at least somewhat willing to switch providers to gain access to digital tools.
There are benefits for providers, too.
Implementing tools like digital appointment scheduling, check-in, registration, and automated reminders alleviates much of the burden placed on administrative staff. This is particularly important because, according to Bloomberg, 20% of U.S. hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages, and the medical community has been generally overstressed since the beginning of the pandemic. These tools also support hybrid workforces, where many are working remotely.
Additionally, as healthcare costs continue to rise, so do patient balances. The ability to spread those balances out over time with automated, regular payments puts less financial strain on patients and gets providers paid quicker with less expenditure of time and effort. No more sending notices in the mail.
Patients are already used to the retail version of buy now, pay later. If they knew they could pay off health expenses the same way they do large purchases like furniture or televisions, they may be more likely to get the care they need. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Half of U.S. adults say they put off or skipped some sort of health care or dental care in the past year because of the cost.”
Implement automation safely
The stakes of cybersecurity in healthcare are high and are an important factor in implementing new technology. A recent survey found that 58% of healthcare organizations reported being victims of ransomware and a separate survey reported 49% of patients would change hospitals if theirs were hit by a ransomware attack. As new digital tools are implemented, the risk naturally increases. However, that doesn’t mean that providers should shy away from modernizing their processes.
Practitioners can lower risk by partnering with a vendor that hosts digital tools in the cloud, rather than trying to secure those tools in-house. When this technology sits within your four walls, it becomes your responsibility to make sure it’s secure. Cloud providers offer built-in security, and hackers have a more difficult time breaching AWS, Microsoft Azure, or other cloud-based vendors. By partnering with a cloud provider, your risk declines and cybersecurity insurance is even more affordable.
What’s next in healthcare automation
So much more can be done in the healthcare sector beyond automating appointment booking, communication, and payments. Look how far other industries, like travel, have come.
A trip by plane used to require calling a travel agent and a process full of other manual tasks. Eventually, ticket kiosks offered passengers the efficiency of getting their tickets at the airport, and today travel is nearly self-sufficient. All airlines need to provide is the pilot and a plane because passengers book their own flights with an app, have their e-tickets right on their phones, and can even be alerted when things like arrival times or gate numbers change. The manual touchpoints are gone.
The same can be true in healthcare. Patients can electronically check in for their appointments, fill out forms digitally, pay with credit cards on file, and reduce the manual processes that typically occur at the front desk and create bottlenecks in efficiency.
The aim for the healthcare sector should be the same as it was in travel: Remove as many manual, administrative touch points as possible so that providers have more time and compassion to do what they trained in: Connecting with and treating patients. Through automation, we can make the process of healthcare more empathetic and efficient for both providers and patients.
Michael Peluso is a career-long revenue cycle professional with advanced skills and expertise in the specification, development, and implementation of software technologies to accelerate the revenue cycle for health plans and healthcare providers ranging from small practices up to large regional enterprises. Prior to joining Rectangle Health in 2013, he also held senior leadership roles with multiple revenue cycle technology companies.