The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders: “Does your practice accept nontraditional payment options from patients? (e.g., PayPal, Apple Pay, Venmo, etc.?)” The majority, 95%, answered “no,” while 5% reported “yes.” Respondents who answered “yes” were asked, “Which options does your practice accept?” The top responses included:
- Apple Pay
Respondents who answered “no” were asked, “Are you considering introducing these in the near future?” More than eight in 10 (83%) answered “no,” while 16% indicated “yes” While 1% were “unsure”.
The poll was conducted on November 12, 2019, with 1,388 applicable responses.
Trends in sharing money through apps such as Apple Pay, Venmo, Zelle and PayPal have continued to pick up speed — a recent survey estimated PayPal handled nearly $142 billion in person-to-person (P2P) transfers in Q4 2018, while Zelle handled $122 billion in P2P transfers in the same quarter. Banks continue to be the preferred method of transferring money with $172 billion in P2P exchanges, but they are no longer the only option for consumers. Currency sharing technologies are providing an easier way for people to manage their money — making their adoption for paying medical bills a logical step as patients continue to shoulder more out-of-pocket expenses.
Meeting consumer expectations
The proliferation of high-deductible health plans, which require patients to pay thousands of dollars toward their healthcare, signals a shift in which healthcare consumers actively search for providers who provide quality, lower-cost care and patients feel they are receiving value for what they pay.
Research has shown that patients rank their consumer experience higher than quality of clinical outcomes and value while providers routinely prioritize clinical quality, availability of complex care, geographic coverage and other factors before patient experience.
To provide further clarity, Cathy Faulkner, FACMPE, administrator, Peerless Pediatrics, Cleveland, Tenn., spoke with MGMA about how her practice is using this technology.
How does your practice use these payment options?
We use PayPal as a payment method on our website and at check-in. We plan to offer Apple Pay and Venmo in the near future.
What were the drivers behind offering these payment options?
Our office has a younger patient demographic. They expect non-traditional payment methods. It is easy to add these payment methods to meet their expectations and obtain payment.
What is your experience with using these payment options?
It has been very positive. We are a pediatric practice. Our clientele is accustomed to various payment methods — these payment models are offered with online shopping and other retail options the patients are accustomed to using. It is easy for patients to transition to paying their medical bills using these methods of payment.
Do you see a positive impact? If so, in what way?
It has had a very positive impact for our practice. Using familiar payment methods and giving multiple options to pay leaves the patient with no excuse for not being able to pay. We typically have 87% to 92% of our A/R in the 0-30 payment category.
Any barriers? Issues on the tech side?
The only barrier is that I am not IT savvy enough to set these up. I have had to obtain assistance.
Tips for making financial conversations a win-win
By taking greater responsibility for cost of care, patients can play a more active role in the decisions they make about their healthcare. Patients may see their spending as an investment in their own health and wellness, and providers who assist with that investment could offer a better patient experience — and have a positive impact on the bottom line. Helping patients understand their financial responsibilities, including copays and deductibles, is an opportunity for practices to stand out. Patient care is no longer only about clinical outcomes; it’s also about helping patients plan and manage their financial obligations and providing options to make payments easier.
These five tips can help you start the payment conversation with your patients:
- Define your patient-centric financial policies. Before you can implement new policies, you need to define them. Consider what’s not working well. Are your patients confused about what they owe and surprised by larger balances? Is your organization struggling to collect balances due? Are staff members unclear when to request payment or uncomfortable discussing financial matters with patients? Do practices vary among staff members? Answering these questions can help you identify where you may need to create new policies and processes to help your patients and your practice.
- Communicate and reinforce new direction. Next, communicate policy changes to staff, patients, stakeholders in your organization and others who may be affected. In addition to written documentation, in-person conversations can be helpful when introducing new policies. Be open to productive dialogue but set clear expectations. Acknowledge that change may not be easy but is often necessary. Commit to supporting the transition with training and tools. Communicating via multiple channels (web, email, letter, promotional materials in the office) can help get the word out to patients. Educating patients and helping them understand their financial obligations are important.
- Prepare staff and provide opportunities to develop skills. Delivering basic staff training can help drive clarity and consistency, while building confidence. Training doesn’t need to be extensive and formal, if it is focused and clear. Consider developing checklists, step-by-step instructions or mnemonic devices such as acronyms and rhymes to help staff members understand and remember actions you want them to take. Periodically repeat training to reinforce good habits, correct misunderstandings, allow participants to share observations and ideas, and bring new team members up to speed. You can also survey your patients about their experiences and ask for input on ways to improve.
- Be sincere and supportive. Change can be uncomfortable, and it helps to acknowledge this in an open, honest way. Being genuine and empathetic while explaining the rationale behind a decision and its goals and benefits can be beneficial. Encourage staff members to take this approach when discussing financial matters with patients and remind them that many will welcome this kind of conversation. No one wants to deal with surprise bills, delayed treatment or payment and other stressful scenarios. Being well-informed and working together to find the best way forward can be a positive experience for all involved.
- Offer options and be open to innovation. Providing options is always helpful. Giving staff and patients the power to decide can help them feel empowered and shift the focus to finding solutions rather than dealing with problems. For staff members, this could mean preparing a few answers for tough questions or providing different ways to offer assistance (e.g., recommend solutions, share materials, refer to third-party resources). For patients, this might entail providing payment options, such as paying over time, making online or mobile payments or using new payment methods.
These technologies are making a splash across multiple industries and may be worth considering for practice leaders looking to accommodate patients’ preferences for paying medical costs.
- “Viewing Your Medical Practice Through Your Patient’s Eyes” (Executive Session podcast)
- “Effective Debt Collection 100 Level” (MGMA online course)
- “Utilizing Patient Financing to Drive Patient Experience” (MGMA podcast)
- “Patient Payments in an Out-of-pocket Age” (MGMA Insight article)
- The Physician Billing Process: Navigating Potholes on the Road to Getting Paid (MGMA e-book)
- Front Office Success, 2nd edition (MGMA e-book)
- ”Maximizing Patient Collections through Trained Staff and Informed Consumers” (MGMA Fellowship paper)
- ”Finding Patient Payment Opportunities” (MGMA Insight article)
- “Card on File: The Future of-Patient Collections” (MGMA Fellowship paper)
Would you like to join our polling panel to voice your opinion on important practice management topics? MGMA Stat is a national poll that addresses practice management issues, the impact of new legislation and related topics. Participation is open to all healthcare leaders. Results of other polls and information on how to participate in MGMA Stat are available at: mgma.com/stat