Industry Voices—5 tactics to digitally transform patient financial engagement strategies

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A recent survey found that only 8% of consumers said they received digital healthcare statements exclusively, even though 25% would prefer them. (Pinkypills/Getty Images)

Text. Email. Web portals. Consumers use these digital tools to facilitate nearly every aspect of their lives, except one: financial communications with healthcare providers.

Only 8% of respondents in our recent survey said they received digital healthcare statements exclusively, even though 25% would prefer them. Many healthcare chief financial officers believe that digital transformation is mission-critical, yet digital communication remains low.

Why does this matter? Healthcare organizations are under extreme pressure to cut costs, improve performance and meet patient expectations. While not a panacea, making digital communication a priority will improve patient experience and financial performance in an increasingly competitive industry.

Balanced approach – better results

Financial healthcare communications frequently occur along a single-channel and multichannel continuum. Traditional mailed statements remain the most common single channel for reaching patients. In a multichannel approach, text, email and IVR/phone are offered as billing alternatives, though commonly used for appointment reminders and other service-related communications. Unfortunately, these myriad communications often are disconnected across departments, leading to data silos.

A true omnichannel approach uses a variety of communication channels based on patient preferences and actual engagement behaviors. With a centralized view of the patient, organizations can share insight and track and analyze patient responses across channels.

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

Case in point: When one East Coast provider launched a digital initiative, they increased digital engagement from 2.3% to 40.3% in a single month. The provider also found that people receiving a text notification paid their balance 12 days faster, and payments made via mobile devices increased.

Among people making a payment, 12.6% paid their bill even before they received a printed statement. Also, more patients paid online

RELATED: Industry Voices—The Rx for improved patient billing experiences

Convenience cuts costs

Not only does digital communication make it easier for patients to respond quickly, it also allows healthcare organizations to cut costs. With a digital-first, omnichannel strategy, healthcare organizations substantially reduce printing and postage expenses. They also reduce the time/cost tied to customer service representatives manually working to resolve outstanding balances or billing issues.

How does your organization bridge the gap?

Here are five proven tactics for digitally transforming your patient financial engagement strategies.

Strategy #1: Don't abandon print

Omnichannel patient communication should include some printed information, such as statements. A 2019 Consumer Action study found that 74% of consumers want printed medical bills to ensure that important information is not lost in their email inbox or spam folder. Others said having a printed bill helps them remember to pay it. But they didn’t stop there: 56% also said online digital payment options were important, too.

Strategy #2: Do digital first

A “digital-first” strategy cuts costs by delivering statements, letters and other important documents electronically to patients. Not only is this approach three to five days faster and less costly, but it also allows you to alert patients to expect other such communications in the future. And providing important financial information to patients using SMS/text and email messages allows them to act on that information more quickly.

Strategy #3: Promote digital options

Our recent study (PDF) found that 69% of respondents said they were not offered—or did not know—they could use digital communications to receive and pay bills. Takeaway? Actively promote digital options throughout the patient journey.

Pre-service conversations and your website present clear opportunities to increase digital interaction. Make email and text disclosure a standard part of your patient access process. Healthcare organizations often increase digital engagement simply by letting patients know it is available.

Strategy #4: Share patient contacts

A patient’s digital contact information is frequently given but only used for appointment reminders and notices. By centralizing digital contact information and being clear with patients about how and when it will be used, healthcare organizations can eliminate redundant requests. Sharing this information across departments helps drive a seamless experience and deliver communications your patients want and, increasingly, expect.

Strategy #5: Tap existing data

Your organization is sitting on valuable data about how patients respond to various communications methods. Using a data engine to harness this insight can transform the patient experience through seamless communications delivered in the most effective ways. The result is a deeper, fact-based understanding of what works best to reach and motivate patients.

There’s a gap between the digital experience patients desire and their actual experience with most healthcare providers. By harnessing existing patient data, it is possible to accelerate digital adoption. Proceed mindfully along the omnichannel path. Patients want consistent interactions among all your communications channels.

A patient-centered, omnichannel approach will allow your organization to provide the seamless communications experience patients expect, resulting in a better experience and better, overall financial results—for you and your patients.

Kristen Jacobsen is responsible for product management, product marketing, corporate marketing and brand development at RevSpring.

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