How Covid-19 has changed healthcare payments

Covid-19 offered a long overdue jolt to healthcare payments. The public health emergency exacerbated the industry’s problems with manual, paper-based and in-person practices. It also compelled providers to streamline their revenue cycle practices and offer more digital payment options, according to a recent report by InstaMed that includes quantitative data from $393 billion in healthcare payments processed on its platform, as well as survey data from consumers, providers and payers.

The pandemic accelerated many consumer-focused digital trends in healthcare, such as telehealth and contactless payment options. It’s not just younger, tech-savvy patients using these options. Millions of Medicare beneficiaries made contactless payments in 2020, according to the report, with stay-at-home orders influencing the digital shift.

A few key findings about consumers from the report:

  • 82% want to make all of their healthcare payments in one place
  • 85% prefer an electronic payment method for medical bills and premiums
  • 66% receive medical bills in the mail

Many health organizations continue to discount the link between the payments experience and overall patient satisfaction.

The demand for digital payments shows no signs of dwindling—78% of consumers surveyed reported that they want contactless payment options to remain in place. Healthcare organizations should take a data-driven approach, looking to consumer sentiment to improve the payments process and their own financial outlook.

Provider Trends: A Startling Disconnect and a Need for Streamlined Payments

Patients take ease of payment seriously—more than many providers realize. Forty-two percent of providers think collection efforts don’t impact the patient experience. Yet 56% of consumers would consider switching providers for a better healthcare payments experience. Patients have seen digital growth in other industries, so they notice when healthcare providers’ systems are lacking.

It’s also a cost issue for patients. Consumers pay a greater share of the cost of provider visits than in the past, and visit providers more frequently, which may further tie consumer loyalty to the payment experience.

Simplified online payments provide an opportunity to increase customer retention while increasing revenue and improving efficiency. On average, a manual transaction costs $5.42 more than the equivalent electronic transaction and requires an additional nine minutes of labor. Those savings can be essential for health organizations with limited resources and staff.

Payer Trends: A Quiet Year for Claims and a Powerful Position for Change

Many providers experienced a sharp decline in patient traffic at the start of the pandemic, which helped strengthen payers’ 2020 performance as they had fewer claims to pay out. Even the easing of pandemic restrictions did not significantly alter this pattern.

Nearly all payers prioritize consumer preference for making all of their healthcare payments in one place. Plus, 89% of payers surveyed are already using or have plans to use artificial intelligence and machine-learning offerings, and digital adoption continues to rise among both consumers and healthcare organizations. However payers must innovate provider reimbursement and member payment experiences to maintain the positive trend.

The Prescription Involves Paving the Way for The Future of Payments

After the pandemic transformed our daily lives, our work habits and our consumer practices, there’s simply no going back to the old way of doing things. The healthcare industry will not shift back to legacy payments, and digital payment solutions will help organizations rebuild and prepare for future waves of disruption. To keep up with these consumer demands, providers and payers should continue to provide innovative, contactless payment and care options.

Photo: Julia_Sudnitskaya, Getty Images

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