The healthcare industry is currently facing unprecedented disruption. Scarcities of staffing, ballooning expenses, mass uncertainty, and new risks to in-person communication due to COVID-19 are driving adoption of new technologies for patient engagement in all dimensions of the medical experience.
Unlike a visit to the bank or supermarket, most consumers visit their pediatrician, obstetrician, or dermatologist infrequently as part of a routine checkup or a concentrated medical event. So the inconvenience of accessing or paying for such services may not seem worth the inconvenience of trying to change it after the fact, especially when payment is mediated by a web of insurance providers, patient portals, medical professional offices, and third party medical billers.
The status quo has been a source of frustration for patients, practices, and medical billers alike, but adoption of new technologies to resolve these problems has only recently taken on a new sense of urgency. The potential loss of revenue from elimination of elective procedures and a reduction in routine office visits is bringing change to the front of the line of priorities for medical billers and the practices they support.
Approaching healthcare at the patient level
What should ultimately happen in healthcare is the same thing that has happened to banking. Fintech products allow customers to seamlessly transfer money between accounts, purchase investments, and access a modular overview of their financial health. This is sorely lacking in healthcare.
Patients should be able to ask questions remotely from their phone or laptop and receive individualized answers. They should be able to make payments directly through whichever methods are most convenient for them. They should be able to question bills they don’t recognize and be given visibility into where the bill comes from, the extent to which their insurance might have covered it, and what their best options are for paying their bills. Even more importantly, customers should be able to access this information through a single, convenient, easy-to-use platform that gives them a bird’s eye view of their billing in a manner that reflects their experience, and communicated in an easy to understand way that aligns with their medical treatment and visits.
Healthcare has historically been a comparatively sticky industry. Ample benefits need to be demonstrated over the long-term before change is adopted. Medical professionals understandably prefer to stick with established norms that are proven to work due to potential risks outweighing any rewards. The coronavirus has changed the equation.
Patients are being advised to avoid their doctors’ office unless absolutely necessary and doctors’ phone lines are down or being operated by reduced staff. The risk of not offering patients a seamless way to communicate and pay when they are at a loss for familiar ways to reach their practice now greatly outweighs the status quo.
What does change look like?
The pressures that COVID-19 are putting on patient populations are making them less willing to wait for answers. But change doesn’t have to be painful and tedious. This idealized version of medical billing is an increasingly accessible reality. However, a simple ‘portal’ is not the answer. Patients don’t want to create a new profile and worry about logins and data security just to see the same information provided on their paper bills with no opportunity for 2-way communication. That will only frustrate patients and create more work for practices and medical billers.
What patients, practices and medical billers need now is an intelligent platform that provides personalized billing and communication supported by machine learning and analytics. Simplified billing with 2-way communication and multiple ways to pay. As the current pandemic continues, medical billers will need to make it as easy for patients to pay their medical bills by eliminating all hurdles to understanding what they owe and allowing them to pay through the medium they feel most comfortable.
At a time of great uncertainty and rapid societal change, our medical system is positioned to benefit enormously from preexisting trends towards digitization, remote access, improved patient engagement, and seamlessly integrated and simplified methods of payment. Medical billers that adopt automated and digital patient engagement will realize stronger practice relationships, and calmer and happier patients. It will also allow for reduced administrative waste and increased collections at a time when possible future cash-flow is uncertain.
The coronavirus is disrupting our healthcare system like nothing ever before it, and it will have lasting effects on the patient-practice-biller relationship. Some of the changes might prove beneficial in the long-term for medical billers who are ready for it.
Edit: If you want to learn about how Inbox Health is working to help billers reduce overhead costs and improve the patient experience during this crisis, reach out and request a demo today.