For the past two years, healthcare organizations have been consumed by ever-shifting Covid-19 protocols, staffing issues and more, and they have been forced to pivot at lightning speed in ways they might have never expected. It’s no wonder the State Of Telehealth Q2’21 Report by CB Insights (registration required) revealed that 60% of healthcare organizations are tackling new digital projects, while 42% of providers are speeding up existing digital transformation plans.
In 2022, we shouldn’t lose sight of investing in patient engagement. This is key to success. As patient expectations rise based on consumer-centric experiences with companies such as Amazon and Uber, it’s more critical than ever to take some of the lessons from retail and apply them in a healthcare context.
In my company’s 2021 Healthcare Consumer Experience Study (download required), we learned that 57% of consumers say they’re more likely to recommend a provider if they’ve had a great digital experience. And with the ubiquity of online reviews these days, we know that customer (and patient) recommendations matter.
As the co-founder of a healthcare financial technology company that provides flexible payment solutions, I’ve observed that some providers have already recognized the urgency of evolving to meet consumer demands regarding cost, clarity and communications. But for those that haven’t, it’s critical to address three key elements to meet rising expectations and remain competitive.
Healthcare costs have skyrocketed, and consumers are feeling the strain. More than half (56%) told us their healthcare costs have increased over the past five years, and more than three-quarters (77%) are worried about expenditures rising over the next five years.
Their anxiety is understandable: Medical issues are the cause of the majority of personal bankruptcies in this country, according to CNBC. With confusing bills, a fragmented system and healthcare organizations and payers often working in silos, I believe it’s a problem that won’t be going away anytime soon. In the meantime, more people are “shopping around” for their medical care, PwC’s Health Research Institute found. In my company’s study, we learned 62% of consumers “would take advantage of financing options or creative payment plans if they were available for large bill amounts.”
But what does “getting creative” mean? In a word, this means flexibility. Options such as digital wallets, e-statements, online payment plans and text reminders could prove helpful in managing and reviewing costs and making payments. Ensure your consumers know if and when they have multiple options. This can help them carry a balance with less stress and resolve that balance when it is convenient and optimal for them. Simply knowing that tools are available to them can offer a measure of relief and a motivation to resolve bills.
Sometimes when consumers don’t pay a bill, it’s not because they don’t want to, nor is it from a lack of trying. Through no fault of their own, they sometimes find themselves in a stressful situation financially. Of consumers who have gone into collections, 28% told us it was because they could not decipher the actual cost of their bill. In fact, New York Times Magazine reported that “indecipherable medical bills” are part of the reason why health care costs are expensive. No one should be put in such a distressing situation, especially when they are so vulnerable as patients.
From my perspective, consumers are not averse to paying out-of-pocket for the providers they want to see. Again, the issue is around clarity. How about offering a guaranteed price beforehand? Nearly 80% of respondents to our study said they’re willing to pay the out-of-pocket costs before or at the time of a visit, as long as the price is understood and guaranteed.
I believe consumers should be able to see a provider, whether in or out of network, and feel secure about what they’re expected to pay. Offering pricing clarity ahead of time could also help reduce stressful calls from confused consumers and the burden on staff who respond to these queries. That kind of confidence can help instill trust among providers, patients, payers and members. With stronger relationships and loyalty, everybody wins.
Whether in our personal or professional lives, we all want strong communication and to feel like we are being heard. And in retail, consumers have come to expect and demand it. Nothing less than that will do. With 37% of respondents in our study expressing dissatisfaction with the clarity of communications from their healthcare provider, there’s a clear need for improvement.
This is where omnichannel communication — by text, email or live chat function — could help. From my perspective, this would offer information to members anytime, anywhere. And for those who still prefer a paper statement, a mobile app or an online patient portal can effectively supplement that experience. Ultimately, meeting consumers where they are — physically, logistically, emotionally — is key.
We live in an always-connected world, after all, which means that people are more likely than not to be online in some way at any given time. The old ways of doing things won’t work any longer.
The good news is, mastering the “three C’s” is not difficult to achieve, and the payoff is worthwhile. Healthier patients lead to better long-term outcomes and cost our system less. It’s all about providing consumers with simplicity and transparency, as well as building relationships that feel collaborative rather than adversarial. What something costs, how those costs are communicated, and how much is paid and when are all ways leaders can empower consumers to take charge of their healthcare.