Hospitals Ignore Bill Payment Technology and Suffer the Consequences

April 12, 2013
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It is not news that technology is changing the way the world works. As in every age, young people adopt new ways of interacting with their world and thus reshape the way things are done, leaving many business and organizations running to keep up with the times. It is now widely accepted that tablets, mobile credit card services and cloud computing will radically change the way business is done, even though these products and services didn’t even exist a mere 5 years ago. 

It is not news that technology is changing the way the world works. As in every age, young people adopt new ways of interacting with their world and thus reshape the way things are done, leaving many business and organizations running to keep up with the times. It is now widely accepted that tablets, mobile credit card services and cloud computing will radically change the way business is done, even though these products and services didn’t even exist a mere 5 years ago. 

hospital technologyHospitals and healthcare providers have enthusiastically embraced new technologies for treating patients but have not shown the same enthusiasm for new technologies when thinking about improving the patient experience on the business side of healthcare. So many hospitals are decades behind in their thinking in terms of how technology can be deployed to improve the patient experience.

Many healthcare providers are struggling to make ends meet and to improve the efficiency of their organization’s revenue cycle. This struggle will only become more critical once the payment reforms contained in the ACA are implemented. Like every healthy business knows (and hospitals need to start seeing themselves as businesses), improving the efficiency of the revenue stream is necessary if the business is going to keep running smoothly.  But somehow, many hospitals are still relying on third party reimbursements to carry the organization forward and focus little attention or resources on managing the self-pay receivable. This results in poor collections from self-pay patients and reinforces the decision not to invest in managing this receivable.

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There are hospitals that do invest in technology to optimize self –pay revenue but so much of these investments are in technology that promise increased recoveries while reducing hospital interaction with patients. This approach actually moves hospitals in the wrong direction.  Hospitals should invest in technologies that engage their patients in the billing and collection experience. 

The modern healthcare patient has embraced a whole galaxy of electronic payment solutions.  How many young patients are still writing checks, buying an envelope and a stamp, and paying bills through the mail? Younger hospital patients (under 45) don’t even get paper bills any more. How many patients still withdraw money from tellers at banks?  Yet many hospitals still make patients stand at a cashier’s office to pay a bill. The more the rest of the economy moves towards electronic transactions, the more out-of-step hospitals will appear and the more resistance they will experience from patients who are not given the same payments options these patients have through their landlords, mortgage companies and credit cards. Not providing patients with multiple ways to pay a bill sends a message to patients that the hospital doesn’t respect the patient’s time. 

The closer to the time of care a payment is requested, the more likely the hospital will be to receive payment. So why are hospitals wasting time on sending paper bills through the mail months after care was delivered? If a patient has finished treatment, soliciting payment on a tablet or cell phone using Square or a similar technology  at the time of discharge can mean the difference in millions of dollars in revenue.  It is important also to provide them with access to their bills through the hospital’s website. (These services are, of course, in addition to providing sound financial counseling, insurance education and enrollment, and financial assistance when necessary.)

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The bill payment experience contributes to overall patient satisfaction, whether it is specifically being measured or not.  Tools currently exist for hospitals to actively engage their patients in the payment process.  Every other section of the economy has embraced these technologies.  Quality of care being equal, hospitals that embrace these tools will be the hospitals that succeed. 

(image: hospital administration / shutterstock)