Competing for digitally-savvy healthcare consumers' hard-earned dollars is far from child's play. The evolution of customer experiences being rolled out across industries is changing the way consumers shop for everything, including healthcare providers and services.

Remember the first time you price shopped a flight on Expedia? Or used TripAdvisor to compare hotels and read previous travelers' reviews? Now there's a review site or app for virtually everything. Restaurants, law firms, lawn services — you name it.

In the past, healthcare customers didn't enjoy the same access to information as customers of other service industries. What a doctor said or a hospital charged was taken at face value. Now the efficacy of that information is checked online and experiences are shared with other customers. Why does that facility have a 3-star rating? Why was that MRI ordered if it wasn't covered by the reviewer's insurance?

One version of Expedia for healthcare that hospitals must take seriously is the Press Ganey patient experience assessment. The outcome of this survey directly impacts the organization's Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Yes, that's right. Hospitals are not just being paid for the services they provide, but also for their patients' level of satisfaction.

That's exactly why healthcare marketers need to jump in and get involved. You have unprecedented opportunity to directly drive revenues and improve new patient acquisition — all it takes is a new perspective on patient communications and creative use of a few marketing tools you're probably already familiar with.

How Patient Financial Responsibility is Changing The Value Equation
Changes in reimbursements from payers are shifting more and more out-of-pocket costs to healthcare consumers, and in turn, healthcare consumers' are measuring the value, or ROI on healthcare, in different ways. This trend is likely to accelerate.

TransUnion Healthcare presented at HIMSS18 and revealed that patients saw their average out-of-pocket expenses shoot up by 11% that year. That's a rise from $1,630 in the fourth quarter of 2016 to $1,813 by the close of 2017.

Even if that doesn't seem like a massive jump, it signals potential bad news for hospitals. According to a separate TransUnion study, about 68% of patients with bills of $500 or less didn't pay their full patient responsibility in 2016. On top of that, the number of patients who failed to fully pay their medical bill balances grew to 53% in 2015 from 49% the year before.

While things might seem a little bleak, every challenge presents an opportunity, and this opens the door for hospitals to benefit from strong relationships between marketing and revenue cycle departments.

What Makes Patients More Likely To Pay
Every hospital should be laser-focused on providing a positive patient financial experience. That includes providing end-to-end support — from helping them understand their obligations to encouraging active participation in maintaining payment arrangements that align with their needs as consumers.

The HIMSS 2018 Patient Payment Checkup holds some particularly interesting insight into how this plays out:

  • 46% of patients indicated they'd be more likely to pay a bill “up front, before, or during a time of service."
  • Most of the time patients cited “waiting for the bill to arrive" as the reason they didn't pay the balance at the time of treatment.

When you take a step back, it makes complete sense. From retail, to finance, even a simple dinner out, consumers are used to clear financial communication, usually knowing the price of their products and services before they make any decisions. Only healthcare (and maybe the auto repair industry) has conditioned consumers to expect a financial experience that resembles a black hole more than anything else.

Remember that most of your patients understand they have a responsibility to pay and want to be involved and conscientious consumers. Helping them get there can be as straightforward as a fresh look at your consumer experience strategy.

Where Your CRM Comes In
Let's take a look back at the HIMSS Patient Payment Checkup for some general trends first.

  • Patients aged 18 to 34 lean more toward e-billing than older demographics and tend to like paying charges of $200 and under on debit or credit cards.
  • The desire to pay via digital options is increasing across all age groups — patients 75 and older said they'd prefer to pay their next bill with a credit card kept on file.

A simple CRM-powered campaign to inform patients about your organization's convenient online and pay-by-phone credit card options can make a big difference with this segment of the audience.

Your patient landscape probably looks a little different than that, and this is where you have the opportunity to provide exceptional value to your organization's revenue cycle processes. A CRM with advanced analytics is the starting point for the targeted demographic insight that can really boost cash flows. Once you have that information, you can start translating it into campaigns that connect with your opportunity hot spots.

Use your CRM to build campaigns tailored to individual revenue cycle profiles. For example, patients who've had issues paying in the past might be encouraged to pay if they're reminded of convenient payment plan options. Consumers who call in with frequent billing questions might appreciate a series on revenue cycle education. Patients with coverage coordination issues might benefit from an insurance literacy path.

Digital communications (like SMS and email) hold huge benefits for both patients and providers and can go a long way in filling in unnecessary perception gaps. For example, your organization likely offers a mix of payment plans, credit lines, and online bill pay, but many patients (as many as 49% according to HIMSS) aren't aware and aren't being offered them during their visits. Proactive digital experience management is critical in filling those gaps. A reminder email simply explaining the variety of payments options available, including links to digital options or a click-to-call link for a phone number, can have tremendous impact.

True transparency around the patient financial experience is challenging, (just talk to anyone who works in your rev cycle department) but it can pay off for your facility. Make sure marketing is stepping into the picture to enable your organization's progress into a transparent healthcare future.

For more insight into the full healthcare consumer experience, and what it takes to meet their needs, download our white paper, Healthcare Consumer Experience Today.