Point-of Sale-Payments Drive Change for Healthcare Providers and Patients

BALTIMORE — “High-Deductible Health Plans represent a significant shift in patient responsibility,” Dwight Seeley from Community Health Systems said in a panel at NACHA’s PAYMENTS 2012 annual conference earlier this month. According to Seeley, payment at point of service represents a significant paradigm shift for customers who are accustomed to receiving their bills in the mail.

According to the American Health Insurance Plans Center for Policy and Research, an individual’s average deductibles for HDHPs amounts to $3,000, while family deductibles could run as high as $6,000. “Most patients are not used to paying out-of-pocket for their healthcare services at the point of service, Seeley said. Providers are not set up to ask, either.

Providers are just beginning to acquire the technology and connectivity they need to improve the patient collections process. Seeley emphasized that it is “less expensive to collect up front,” and urged healthcare providers to make necessary structural changes to accept patients’ payments at the point of service.

Panelist Peter Wheeler from KeyBank Treasury Services pointed out that although technology plays a significant role in patient collections, it is not the only problem. “The behavior problem seems to be the greater issue,” he said.

Seeley agreed saying, “Healthcare practitioners are compassionate and generally more concerned with their patients’ health than accepting payment at the point of service.” With out-of-pocket costs for insured patients expected to be as high as $420 billion by 2015, establishing and implementing best practices for processes and procedures around the patient collections process is critical.

However, according to panelists, “Technology is not the only answer to improve the patient collections process.” They encouraged healthcare providers to evaluate their current practices, improve upfront communication between patients and front desk staff, and give patients every opportunity to pay. 

“Education of frontline staff is a key driver in patient payments,” Seeley said. Panelists said more patients would pay if front-desk staff asked directly.

Patient-friendly billing could also pay big dividends panelists said. A McKinsey U.S. Healthcare Payments study cited the lack of financing options as the number one reason patients fail to pay. Forgetting to pay their bill and confusion about how much they owed was also a factor.

Other implementation strategies that might help include rewarding upfront collections, offering financial counseling, and providing outside tools and resources to help.

“There’s a huge paradigm shift underway in healthcare services,” Seeley said. “To navigate the changes in the healthcare industry while continuing to meet the needs of their patients, providers need to adopt a new service model for collecting patient payments.”

View related PAYMENTS 2012 session.