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“Set it and forget it”: Options to guarantee payments from patients

In last month’s Business Edge issue, I outlined how to take your online payments to the next level in order to better connect with patients and achieve payment assurance in the article, Payments: A Matter of Survival for the C-Suite, Part One. Now, I want to focus on “set it and forget it” options to guarantee payments from patients.

The new reality in healthcare is that patients not only owe more – in the form of deductibles, copayments and coinsurance – but the amounts are higher than they ever have been before. The average deductible for covered workers with single coverage has doubled from $735 in 2010 to $1,478 in 2016 (Kaiser Family Foundation). However, many providers are slow to adapt to this trend and rely on paper-based and manual processes to collect, which require administrative resources and do not always yield a payment from the patient. 

Instead, providers can offer the same accessibility and convenience that patients find in other industries that achieve high levels of payment assurance through automated payments. In this article, I will outline the different channels for automated payments that providers can leverage to guarantee payments. 

Saving Payment Information to a Digital Wallet

The first step to automated payments is the ability to set up a digital wallet. Other industries are increasingly offering digital wallets to their customers as a quick way to pay without having to enter payment information for every transaction. There are countless examples of digital wallets in consumer-focused industries – look at the ecommerce shopping experience with any major retailer, and there will be the ability to save payment methods to create a digital wallet. 

In healthcare, patients can set up a digital wallet in the provider’s payment portal to easily pay balances at their convenience with a preferred payment method. You can further optimize a digital wallet for patients by allowing them to set up an automated payment rule without any staff intervention. For example, a patient may have a weekly physical therapy appointment to help them recover from a broken leg. That patient can set automated payments for the weekly $15 charge for their appointment’s copay. 

Survival tip: Make sure that the digital wallet has the ability to capture payment information for bank accounts and payment cards to further meet patient preference on how they want to pay. 

Saving Payments on File in the Person too

Digital wallets are typically considered the patient-facing side of saving payment information on file. It is important to also save payment information on file when the patient is in the office for automated payments too. Providers can leverage automated payments for smaller balances by saving a card on file to automatically collect as soon as a balance is due. 

Consumers are accustomed to payment experiences like this outside of healthcare. For example, consumers know that they will have to present a payment method upon checking into a hotel and that they will be charged upon checkout. 

Survival tip: Collect payment information at check-in to ensure patients understand they are responsible for their balance. 

Make It Easy to Pay Down Larger Balances Over Time

As deductibles grow, it can become harder for patients to pay a balance in full at the time the amount is due. Providers can ease the burden of paying the full amount at one time by allowing patients to set up automated payment plans. 

For example, if a patient undergoes surgery and must pay $1,000 as part of their deductible, it may be easier to pay that balance down over time. The provider can set up an automated payment plan to collect in regular intervals, such as $100 a month to pay the $1,000 balance over ten months. 

The key to payment plans is that they are automated with secure and compliant payment technology, which requires very little staff intervention and protects the sensitive payment data being stored. If staff has to manually enter the payment information every month, this is time that could better spent on other collection tasks and the manual entry makes the data vulnerable to a breach.  

Survival Tip: Always collect a portion of the balance at the time the payment plan is set up and set defined limits for the recurring payment amount. This ensures balances are paid in a reasonable amount of time.

The True Potential for Healthcare Payments

This article series was written to help providers understand the potential of healthcare payments to improve their relationships with patients and ultimately strengthen the future of their organization. I would also like to note the potential that electronic and automated payments have to a provider’s bottom line. 

The healthcare industry is one of the last places where transactions are primarily done on paper. The burden of paper is a drag on the entire industry causing wasted time and money. There are significant opportunities to reduce the waste of paper by harnessing the potential of electronic transactions, especially when leveraged with automation. The potential cost savings and lower overall administrative resources could save the industry billions of dollars if electronic and automated payments were to become the norm in healthcare. 

About the Author: Before founding InstaMed, Chris was an executive in Accenture’s Health and Life Sciences practice. Chris has been involved in strategic development efforts regarding government health initiatives, consumer-directed health plans and direct connectivity between providers and payers. Chris is a named inventor of multiple patents and patent applications held by InstaMed.