60% of younger patients will switch healthcare providers over a poor digital experience: survey

Patients who want the convenience of digital billing and payment options are willing to ditch their healthcare providers if they lag in modern technology, according to a recent survey.

Industries like banking and retail have set consumers' expectations for price transparency and the convenience of digital transactions.

Healthcare providers are not stacking up, according to a survey from Cedar, a patient payment and engagement platform.

Cedar worked with independent research firm Survata to survey 1,607 consumers who visited a doctor or hospital and paid a medical bill in the last 12 months. 

Half of consumers say they are frustrated about their provider’s lack of adoption of digital administrative processes, such as online bill pay, access to insurance information, digital pre-appointment forms or mobile and email bill delivery. And 41% of patients said they would stop going to their healthcare provider over a poor digital experience. Notably, 1 in 5 patients already stopped or switched providers over a poor digital experience.

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Three out of four consumers (74%) are still receiving medical bills via paper methods, the survey found.

“Similar to the scenarios that have played out in other industries like e-commerce, healthcare providers are now being judged by the digital experience they provide their patients,” Florian Otto, founder and CEO of Cedar, said. "While technology has rapidly innovated how we treat patients on the clinical side, administrative processes have yet to catch up."

Younger healthcare consumers are significantly more frustrated, more likely to stop seeing providers and more likely to write negative reviews based on bad digital experiences, according to the survey. Patients aged 18 to 24 are three times as likely (61%) to consider switching providers over a poor digital experience compared to the over-65 population (21%). They are also four times as likely (29%) to have already abandoned a provider due to a poor digital experience compared to the over-65 population (6%). 

The survey also found digital experiences can be a big reason consumers write negative online reviews of providers, with those reviews being highly influential. About 1 in 5 patients have given a negative review of a provider because of a poor digital experience.

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Consumer expectations are higher than ever, Otto said. "We are starting to have more options around where we can go for care. I believe that clinical excellence will still mostly be the most important factor that people consider, but now patients are placing much more emphasis on the administrative experience as well," he said.

There is a growing demand for things like clear and transparent pricing, convenient engagement mechanisms and personalized communication, Otto said. If consumers don’t get these things, they are quite willing to talk about it and also tweet and write negative online reviews across forums that can go viral.

"This may not be the thing that most providers are fully prioritizing today, but the impact of our report's trends on their brands, and ultimately their bottom lines, should not be underestimated," he said.

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Getting expected out-of-pocket cost information also is a noted pain point, according to the survey. Approximately 60% of consumers have tried to get out-of-pocket costs from providers ahead of care, but 51% didn’t get it easily or accurately.

The majority of consumers are calling for specific improvements with healthcare billing—flexible payment plans for large bill amounts, out-of-pocket cost estimates and understandable bill explanations. Consumers also want consolidated bills or statements, better customer support and digital payment options.

Healthcare providers need to rethink the end-to-end patient financial experience to match what consumers are getting in other industries, Otto said. 

"Start with the quick wins. Prioritizing an improved billing platform is an obvious first step to consider because results are seen relatively quickly, typically in months rather than years, and the technical lift is relatively light," he said, noting that the costs can be more than offset by the collection gains achieved.