Consumers hate payment processing times. But what does that mean for hospitals?

In response to consumer dissatisfaction with extended wait times caused by new chip-enabled card readers, Visa and Wal-Mart have taken steps to give back valuable seconds to their customers at checkout. Many hospitals' are looking to improve their patient payment processes in a similar way.

Visa launched a new software Tuesday that cuts down the amount of time customers' credit or debit cards must be in the reader to process payment, which Visa said will shave as many as 18 seconds off its transaction time, reports Wall Street Journal

Wal-Mart has made similar strides to reduce customer wait times. Wal-Mart said it has lopped 11 seconds from its chip-card transaction time, in part by eliminating a prompt that asked consumers to verify the amount of their purchase.

Spokespersons from Wal-Mart and Visa told Wall Street Journal speeding up transaction times is a worthwhile investment because it improves customer satisfaction and purchasing experience. When customers leave the cashier feeling positively about their experience, they feel more inspired to return, or remain loyal to their card company.    

And healthcare organizations are taking note of consumer purchasing trends. Due to the rise in high-deductible health plans, patients are shouldering more responsibility for healthcare costs and hospitals and health systems are interfacing more than ever with patients to collect. As a result, healthcare organizations are looking for ways to improve the speed, convenience and variety of their payment options to better align with other consumer-oriented industries.

A hospital's billing process has a direct affect on patient satisfaction, largely because billing is the first and last interaction a patient has with the provider, from registration to collections. Unfortunately, negative billing experiences can have longstanding effects — only 15 percent of patients who reported a less than satisfactory billing experience would recommend the hospital to others.

How patients feel about their billing experience directly correlates to how and when patients pay their medical bills. A 2016 study by Connance found 74 percent of satisfied patients paid their medical bills in full, compared to 33 percent of their lesser satisfied counterparts.

Some healthcare providers and payers are investing in payment technology solutions that help them accommodate changing consumer preferences convenience and simplicity. For instance, at Alexandria, La.-based Mid State Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center, some patients in the waiting room are handed tablet computers attached to a device that reads credit and debit cards, giving patients the option to pay upfront and store payment information for future bills.

Although many healthcare practices are aware of consumer billing preferences, the industry as a whole has been slow to adapt. A 2015 survey by Deloitte found 70 percent of U.S. healthcare consumers would prefer to get their bills online. Yet many provider groups aren't investing in or promoting their online payment options — only 17 percent of medical bills are paid online, according to a 2016 Aite Group report.

Investing in electronic bill pay platforms can improve the speed and convenience of payment for patients. "Sending patient medical bills online is much more convenient for the patient, who can open their bill on their mobile device or desktop computer and make a payment with few clicks," says Tom Furr, CEO and founder of PatientPay. Automated, streamlined payment options eliminate excess confusion and time for patients and staff members, as well as the improve speed at which hospitals collect payments, he adds.

When hospital leadership understands the difficulties their patients face in understanding, managing and following through on financial responsibility, hospitals can make adjustments that will have a direct effect on their bottom line.