Market Shift and the Plight of Paper Billing

Paper billing for medical offices and United States Postal Service have a lot in common.  Just like every approach has its heyday, sending physical bills to patients is soon going to be only used by a few stalwarts.  The Post Office, Netscape and even Kodak didn’t do anything wrong with their product, it’s just that the market shifted and they did not react.  As the healthcare market shifts toward electronic billing, those who don’t react or react too late will get left behind.

It’s not the most efficient, biggest or those who boast the greatest success collecting that will survive.  It’s the businesses that react to their customers’ wants and needs, those that shift with the market so that they don’t become obsolete.  When email became ubiquitous, the Post Office didn’t change to meet the demands of its customers and that’s why they couldn’t weather the market shift even though they are increasing rates on January 27, 2019 for a product that is loosing traditional clients faster than Kodak film for pictures. Consumers now expect things instantly and don’t want to wait for a truck to get across the country to bring information, they want it fast and they want it now.

Electronic billing gives healthcare consumers what they want, information fast and the ability to transact at their convenience via any device.  By sending bills electronically, patients receive them much faster and can conveniently pay them online.  In addition, electronic billing takes away the overhead costs of a large backroom operation and it enables immediate payment postings.  Billing firms that work with hospitals or medical groups will either have to adapt soon or see their customers move to new, more innovative Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) companies.

With the rapid uptake in electronic billing, firms who maintain the status quo of traditional paper billing are overlooking a huge opportunity to stay relevant to their clients.  Customers want their bills electronically and if they’re not getting it from you, they’ll move to someone who will provide it for them.  And, as they say…the customer is always right.

A Happy New Year Gift from the USPS.....

On January 27, 2019, the US Postal Service raises the cost of a first class stamp to $0.55 from $0.50, a 10% increase.  In addition, bulk paper costs are expected to rise 2.5-6% over the next year and I can promise you that your vendors are not going to absorb those costs.  So if you are a revenue cycle management (RCM) company responsible for collecting payments from patients on behalf of hospitals and medical groups it is a stone cold fact that you are going to see your costs rise next year.  I wish I had better news for you but unless you change something soon you are going to have some very hard choices to make.

One choice you can make now is to look at shifting to an online communication strategy for patients that allows you to present their statements in an easy to understand manner via a mobile phone, tablet or computer to collect payments without the cost of paper statements and postage.  It’s not just what you need it’s what patients want.  I was talking to one of our clients last week and they explained that they adopted PatientPay’s solution because that’s how they prefer to pay all bills.  “When I talk to CFOs or the head of RCM at our hospitals and medical groups I ask them, ‘How do you pay your bills’”, our client said.  “The funny thing is they all sort of laugh when they think about it.  It seems so obvious when you step back from it.” 

When the USPS admits that today more than 60% of Americans are paying their bills online and their response is to raise rates, what else do you need to start looking at alternate solutions to traditional billing and payments?  The question is do you want to go for a ride to the bottom with them?  I know I don’t, and assume you don’t either.

So the cost of postage is going up, the cost of paper is going up and consumers want to pay their bills online…how many more reasons do you need?

Why Does Healthcare Post Patient Payments to the Oldest Balance Due????

There has been a lot of discussion in the news lately about how automation and “robots” are going to make our life easier by doing jobs that we don’t want to do. This is for everything from driverless cars to tax filing. While there are certainly some great things that can come from this I certainly hope that the trajectory of our current automation path takes hold quickly in the healthcare space as well.

In healthcare, there is automation in billing and the auto-posting of payments that dates back many years.  For a quick historical perspective the government designed the systems used today to automate the billing and auto-posting for insurance payments.  This system created a standard format for sending billing requests and then returned payment information.  In most cases that I have found, there is nothing "automatic" about the way patient billing is processed today.  There are still lots of manual steps that need to be taken to reconcile the money collected from the patients’ account. Without going into all the boring details there are still a significant number of processes that need to be completed in order to ensure that every patient payment is applied not only to the right account, but also to the specific service that was provided just like for insurance payments.

At the heart of the process, the patient is paying down a balance that they agree they owe and the practice or hospital has to manually figure out how to post the money collected.  Once the payment arrives then it is up to the billing person to determine where to apply these funds.  In the hospital’s instance it may be applied to a facility fee when the patient was really paying for their provider(s).  Then when a new bill is sent out to the patient stating they still owe for their providers things gets very confusing since they thought this bill had already been paid.  In a practice’s case funds might be applied to an older balance so the bill the patient thought was paid is now being billed again.  While this sounds like not a big deal it is magnified when a billing manager has to explain to the patient what they have and have not paid for.

Healthcare providers need automation that truly auto-posts payments back down to the line of service, date of service, and provider just like an insurance payment with the single click of a button not manual intervention. Why? Because not only will the billing group save a lot of time and money, but more importantly they will have more credibility when dealing with calls from their confused patients.

A recent report shows that 71 percent of patients whose bill aligns with their EOB from their insurance company will pay their bill right away.  Patients want to pay their healthcare bills while healthcare providers want to reduce costs, increase profitability and have a better patient experience.

Let’s make sure everybody gets what they want.

Come See PatientPay at AAHAM ANI 2018

PatientPay looks forward to seeing current and meeting new friends at AAHAM ANI 2018 in Bonita Springs, FL at the Hyatt Coconut Point this week. Please stop by our booth #304.

The American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM) is pleased to present the 49th Annual National Institute (ANI), “Your Ticket to Paradise.” This year’s Institute will be held October 17-19, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in sunny Bonita Springs, Florida. The AAHAM ANI provides a synergistic environment where attendees network and discover the industry’s latest developments, products, services and resources. AAHAM members look forward to learning from industry experts about up-to-the minute hot topics, news and technologies to help them do their jobs better and provide the most innovative, efficient and expert level of performance. The AAHAM ANI offers three full days of networking, building brand awareness and generating quality leads. Based on your feedback, we have expanded the hours, offering you more time to meet attendees and to build quality personal relationships. Take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to reach this concentrated group of professionals by reserving your booth at the AAHAM ANI. The AAHAM ANI offers you an audience of over 500 healthcare professionals…your prime prospects!

Why Specialists Patient Payments Should Be ‘Goin’ Mobile’

Forty-five years ago Pete Townshend, lead guitarist of the fabled rock band The Who, wrote these lyrics:

“...Out in the woods, or in the city, it’s all the same to me.

When I’m driving free, the world’s my home.

When I’m mobile…”

The song “Goin’ Mobile” expressed a young man’s desire to move about freely; allowing him to experience the world in which he was traveling.

According to the research firm Statista, Americans have already gone mobile, albeit in a different way than envisioned by Pete. More than 70 percent of the U.S. population will have a mobile smartphone by 2019 which is only a few months away. That’s more than two out of every three people carrying in their pockets devices that have millions more times the computing power of the guidance systems used by NASA to get men on the Moon and has graphics capabilities that make those of the famed Cray-1 Supercomputer laughable. They can even go toe to toe with IBM’s Deep Blue computer when it comes to number crunching ability.

Given that mobile technology is more than capable of handling complex tasks, readily available and often the preferred method of communication and information access, why aren’t we seeing broader adoption by the healthcare industry? The reason appears to be the continuing tendency by healthcare to not do anything unless it is forced to because of government pressure or regulatory requirement. Because if they were watching and listening to their patients (who are really customers) healthcare would quickly adopt to the changing landscape as almost every other industry does.

As a result, the way in which provider and patient can communicate digitally has been made more difficult. I’m not about to question the importance of patient information privacy. But I will point out that most healthcare portals, direct byproducts of Meaningful Use Stage 1, reflect software development from the 1990s, well before mobile was even on the radar. They are not mobile-friendly let alone user-friendly. There are a number of companies offering end-to-end email encryption but with user interfaces that match the clunkiness and UI of the portals that look like they were designed for Windows 3.1.

According to Research2Guidance, a market analysis firm, there are 100,000+ healthcare-related mobile apps available for download worldwide. The audience for these apps is approximately 85 percent consumer-focused and 15 percent for the healthcare professional. The consumer apps tend to focus on fitness and self-measurement of biometric functions along with nutrition tracking. The aim is to make health as personal and positive an experience as possible; hence the slow but sure rise of wearable technology.

These apps also bring the consumer health information curated by or for them. For healthcare professionals the apps offer remote access to information found in EHR systems that can be viewed daily, not yearly or quarterly as in the past. This real-time data allows doctors to be more proactive in their treatment and interactions with their patients.

Mobile digital health is growing rapidly, aimed at the consumer and operates like message services between the patient and the doctor to select or with whom there exists a relationship. The patient texts a message and medical counsel, within all appropriate privacy guidelines, is offered in reply. Some, like Doctor on Demand, can link a person to an urgent care physician or psychologist and deal face-to-face virtually from their mobile phones. Others, such as Derm on Demand, shorten the time between asking for an appointment and seeing a provider.

The reason such services are getting traction is they grasp the wants and needs of today’s very mobile patient population. Americans are impatient; they want to know about their health status right away. Suggesting they wait even a few days for test results does not get a good reaction; waiting weeks for an appointment just will not do. And telling them to log on to that kludgy ‘90s-style portal to hunt for information on outcomes or schedules infuriates them.

After all, they look to their mobile devices for everything else. And they’re doing so more and more. Newspapers’ savior may well be the mobile phone as digital circulation is replacing the old paper kind. Take a bus or train at rush hour and eyes are scanning the screens of mobile phones, not turning the pages of the morning gazette. KPCB, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, notes 80 percent of all web searches are done from mobile phones and 51 percent of time spent with digital media is done via a mobile mobile. Internet Retailer reported that mobile ecommerce is growing three times faster than ecommerce overall.

Another data point from Internet Retailer I find especially intriguing is that 30 percent of all e-commerce purchases are now made on a mobile device. PatientPay latest reports show that more than 32 percent of bills being paid via its service are done on mobile phones. Three out of four patients using this service pay their bills immediately upon opening them, in part, because of this convenience.

That’s more than coincidental. Analyst and research firm Aite projects mobile-browser-based payments for healthcare will “explode” with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33% in the next year or so.

A credible argument can’t be made that the technology isn’t available to help reduce the crush in waiting rooms, improve the level and amount of preventative care available, save providers’ operating expense or make the bill-paying experience more along the lines of what healthcare consumers want.

The reason why healthcare isn’t doing more with mobile can be found in the results of a study conducted by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit surveying 150 healthcare leaders from both the public and private sectors.

When asked: Which of the following do you think are currently the biggest challenges for the health industry’s adoption of mobile health technologies? The respondents’ top three answers were:

  1. Institutional bias and conservatism within the healthcare establishment;

  2. The need to ensure patient privacy; and,

  3. Healthcare organizations are not sufficiently technologically sophisticated to be able to draw on mobile technology.

Considering all that goes on within a healthcare facility that uses state of the art technology, reason #3 seems hollow; an excuse not to make the effort. Citing privacy in context with mobile suggests either another empty excuse or a bewildering lack of knowledge as to the ability to maintain privacy in a wireless environment. The top reason, unfortunately, suggests that even the emperor realizes his nakedness. Those surveyed acknowledge they, seemingly, can’t get out of their own way.

If those in the industry opt not to answer this call, the mobile-enabled patient will ring up another provider who does.

PatientPay partners with First Data for payment gateway and statement printing

PatientPay now has a partnership with First Data for secure payment processing and cost-effective printing capabilities.

PatientPay clients will now have access to the First Data CardConnect ISV payment gateway, a highly secure way to process online and in-office payments. Specialty medical groups and RCM companies will benefit from competitive rates, full-transaction reporting and painless account activation.

PatientPay uniquely leverages easy-to-understand statements and digital billing to encourage patients to pay their bills quickly. In fact, we see a 70% click-to-pay rate on our digital statements. 35% of PatientPay bills are paid on a mobile phone and digital statements cost almost 4x less than a print statement—making them effective and cost-efficient.

As consumers continue to become bill payment omnivores—healthcare groups needs to keep pace by offering the ability to pay in-office and on mobile devices, using credit cards and checking accounts, over the phone and through the mail. PatientPay clients see collection rates 3x the industry average, while simplifying the entire billing process.

Ensuring the security of online patient payments is mission-critical to PatientPay and working with the First Data CardConnect ISV payment gateway is another way of secure payment processing to our specialty medical groups.

Digital statements are less costly and more effective than paper-based statements. However, there are times when print statements need to be used in the patient collections process. PatientPay will be supplement our current paper statement processing with access to First Data’s high-volume printing capabilities.

Want to know more about how PatientPay can increase your collections while driving down associated costs? Let's do a short demo!