Healthcare consumers are unhappy with current patient billing and collection processes and they are calling for more digital, convenient options, a new survey shows.

Patient Billing

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 By Samantha McGrail

October 18, 2019 –  Half of healthcare consumers are frustrated with their provider’s patient billing and collections processes, especially those that are not yet digital, a recent survey of over 1,000 individuals showed.

The survey conducted by Survata on behalf of Cedar, a patient payment and engagement platform for providers, found that provider billing issues are often the reason why patients don’t pay medical bills. 

Thirty-four percent of US healthcare consumers have had a healthcare bill go to collections in 2019. A 2018 report showed nearly three in ten insured Americans had unpaid medical debt sent to a collections agency, a slight increase from this years report. The survey found that of those, 24 percent didn’t realize the bill was owed and 13 percent said they never received the bill in the first place.

The problem of healthcare bills going to collections proves worse for younger consumers, the survey found. Those 18 to 44 years old were nearly twice as likely to have a healthcare bill go to collections compared to consumers 45 years and older. Younger healthcare consumers were also significantly more frustrated, more likely to stop seeing providers, and likely to write negative reviews based on bad experiences. 

Getting expected out-of-pocket cost information was also a major complaint among survey respondents. Approximately 60 percent have tried to get out-of-pocket costs from providers ahead of care, but 51 percent reported that they did not get it easily or accurately. 

READ MORE: Key Ways to Boost Collection of Patient Financial Responsibility

The survey also found that one in three Americans think providers can do more to improve the patient billing and payment process to relieve their frustrations. Specifically, 49 percent of survey respondents said they were frustrated about their provider’s lack of adoption of digital administrative processes (e.g., online bill pay, access to insurance information).The majority of respondents (74 percent) said their providers still notifies them about a healthcare bill via traditional mail. Just 55 percent said their provider uses an online patient portal and even fewer said email (34 percent) and text (15 percent).

Patients also want more price transparency and flexible payment options. The survey found that half or more of respondents wanted out-of-pocket cost estimates, flexible, more creative payment options, and greater bill clarity, respectively. 

The survey also found:

  • 41 percent of respondents want consolidates bills across different providers and episodes of care
  • 38 percent of respondents want improved customer support for immediate billing inquiries
  • 50 percent of respondents want digital payment options

Providers run the risk of losing business if they fail to meet consumer demands. Forty-one percent of respondents said they would consider switching to a different provider who offered an improved, digital patient billing and collections experience.

Although consumers are able to take control of their credit score with the new regulation in place, a recent survey of over 230 providers and 1,000 adults revealed that 36 percent of providers never address patient financial responsibility. 80% of individuals say that cost is the most challenging aspect of healthcare, with 56 percent of these consumers admitting to delaying paying their medical bills because of this expense. 

READ MORE: Patient Financial Experience the New Focus for Revenue Cycle Tech

Healthcare providers can redesign their patient billing processes to meet consumer expectations and account for the steep rise in patient financial responsibility in a number of different ways. Simplifying medical bills, for example, can help people make sense of the billing process and avoid becoming overwhelmed at the idea of medical expenses. “When people fall ill and end up at the hospital with unexpected bills, far too often they have entered into a financial maze,” explains Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Implementing electronic payment options is another valuable method for providers. By allowing patients to log into online portals and pay their bills at their convenience, providers can empower individuals to take responsibility for their healthcare costs. 

“It’s easier in a lot of cases, especially for tech-savvy patients, to get a bill electronically, to go online, see what they owe, see why they owe that  amount, what visit it’s from, and pay by credit card right there rather than having to submit a check in the mail,” explains David Clain, Manager at Athena Research.

Although insured Americans openly voice their dissatisfaction with their health care providers, roughly 90 percent of these Americans stated that they are more likely to return to a provider if the organization offers a loan program to pay for patient financial responsibility. According to a 2017 ClearBalance survey, 88 percent of over 4,000 consumers stated that they would refer a provider with a loan program to their friends and family. Eighty-one percent of respondents focus on cost when choosing a healthcare organization, and individuals are asking for a repayment period of 24 months.

Although healthcare consumers are frustrated with patient billing and collection processed, there are many steps that can be taken to ensure a fair arrangement that benefits both the consumer and the provider. Further discussion will need to be implemented in order to develop tools and workflow processes that enable healthcare providers to have these conversations with their patients.