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Written by Natalie Moore on Dec 7, 2020

How the Payment Process Can Make or Break Patient Loyalty

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic required providers to evolve and adapt to a more touchless, digital patient experience, patients around the country were eager for more retail-like experiences when it came to paying their healthcare bills. The last several months have accelerated the need to reach patients with more engaging payment options and a better payment experience.

Tying the Payment Experience to Patient Loyalty

In every industry, organizations are in constant competition for market share in order to stay profitable and retain the greatest number of customers. As we’ve seen across the board, brand loyalty is a direct lane to financial success, and the key to maintaining happy and satisfied consumers is providing the most frictionless and simplified user experience possible. In healthcare especially, where the stakes are high, emotions are often involved, but confusion is rampant, the need to create a simplified, easy-to-manage experience is more important than ever.

While clinical care is of course a top priority for providers, data from our Patient Payment Technology Report reveals that the payment and billing process is a huge factor influencing patient loyalty. However, the data also shows that many providers have not yet answered the call for simplicity, and that poor experiences are directly affecting both patient acquisition and retention.

Hospitals Are Losing Potential Patients before They Walk through the Door

Consumers are over the headache of trying to understand their medical bills, and in the age of online research, they’re more often than not evaluating their options before even seeking care. With peer reviews and recommendations easily accessible at the click of a mouse, providers known for a less-than-positive payment and billing process are putting themselves in danger of losing prospective patients – prior to any care delivery.

For many patients, a less than satisfactory payment and billing process can easily turn them off from a specific hospital or medical center. In fact, data from our report revealed that more than three out of every four consumers (76%) consider the billing and payment process to be somewhat or very important when evaluating a new medical provider.

This means that if a given institution has a reputation for confusing or frustrating billing, patients are actually disqualifying them at the very onset of their research, regardless of their quality of clinical care.

Transparency Tops the List of Patient Desires

Transparency, or lack thereof, makes the healthcare headlines on a seemingly daily basis, and consumers are becoming increasingly more impatient with the current landscape. When it comes to price—both in terms of the cost of care and also clear and intuitive payment processes – the industry has seriously fallen behind the curve, and patients are noticing. In fact, our report revealed that nearly half (45%) of healthcare consumers consider price and cost transparency as the factor that would most greatly deepen their loyalty to a specific healthcare provider. Similarly, 45% of patients noted that transparency was the most important aspect of the payment experience, highlighting the importance for the future of healthcare billing to be shaped by an integrated, streamlined payment experience.

Whether it be shopping for a car, a TV, or even a house, consumers have up-front price transparency in just about every other industry that exists. Healthcare, however, has yet to catch up, leaving patients irritated and unsatisfied. While some of the related pain points are out of a provider’s hands, others, such as clear, concise, and easy-to-understand bills are well within their power to provide, and those who alleviate the avoidable stressors will see a direct impact in satisfaction.

Patient Expectations Are Increasing, But Satisfaction is Lagging

As we’ve seen across the board, consumers have increasingly high expectations, and industries like retail have gone above and beyond to listen to these desires and take the steps to quell any inconveniences. However, healthcare has yet to instill a similar sense of satisfaction in patients, leaving them in frequent doubt, especially with regard to payments and billing. Poor experiences unfortunately lead to lowered trust, and with data showing that only 1 in 3 consumers have high confidence that their medical bills are even accurate, it’s no wonder why satisfaction is low.

This can be particularly devastating for providers, as this lack of satisfaction directly translates to lost profits. In fact, 42% of consumers reported they would not return to a provider if they were charged incorrectly or didn’t know what they were charged for, and more than a third (34%) said a difficult and unorganized billing and payments process would prevent them from seeking further care as well.

While major issues like these of course top the list of things providers must avoid, patients also increasingly demand flexible and assorted payment options, with 28% opting to leave a provider if their preferred form of payment was not accepted. While credit and debit cards (including HSA/FSA cards) were still the most preferred options, many patients reported the desire to use a number of additional payment methods, including check or ACH (28%), cash (35%), a flexible payment plan (22%), and even PayPal (26%).

The Overall Impact

Healthcare providers are under a constant microscope, and given the current political and cultural debate surrounding healthcare, that is unlikely to change anytime soon, so providers must work increasingly hard to alleviate the concerns that consumers have raised. Those that ignore the call are putting themselves in a position to lose patients and erode their brand loyalty, even if their clinical care is top-notch. An organization’s financial success is dependent on the volume of customers who buy into their brand, and the data shows that payments and billings have a tremendous effect on this process. Whether it is a positive or a negative effect, however, is largely in providers’ hands to control.

Consumers want more options, greater clarity and a better payment experience—and providers need to start listening.

This article originally appeared in PaymentsJournal. You can read it in its entirety here.

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