Leaning into Digitization to Improve Patient Satisfaction and Optimize Operations

As patients become discerning consumers of healthcare, providers are focused on implementing processes and technologies that enhance the entire experience, from care delivery through to payment obligations.

COVID-19 has forced healthcare companies to navigate a landscape that is transforming at record speed. The pandemic accelerated many of the trends towards digitization that were already underway, and as we look beyond the pandemic, healthcare organizations will need to consistently refine and build upon those digital tools and infrastructure to better serve their patients.

Patients as Discerning Consumers

Across demographics, individuals have adopted digital interfaces for a range of consumer needs over the past year. Even former digital holdouts quickly formed new habits once social distancing measures were in place, and contactless transactions became a necessity amid the pandemic – from Baby Boomers turning to online grocery orders to Gen Z’s increasing usage of mobile wallet payments.

As patients become discerning consumers of healthcare, providers are focused on implementing processes and technologies that enhance the entire experience, from care delivery through to payment obligations. For instance, patients are increasingly expecting pre-visit communications to be served up digitally, so that they can fill out forms in advance in a contactless manner.

By creating a “digital front door,” healthcare organizations can create easy access points, such as online self-scheduling and pre-registration and check-in from mobile devices. Pre-visit communications are increasingly providing patient payment estimates as well – i.e. are they going to owe $50 or $500? In a 2020 survey, InstaMed found that 80% of consumers said they have been surprised by a medical bill, and 86% said they want to know their payment responsibility upfront.

Institutions today must also think beyond the traditional touchpoints of reminders, pre-visit preparation, visit and post-visit billing to a more always-on approach. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play an increasing role in evolving and deepening the patient experience, by helping patients more proactively manage their health. For example, AI tools enable effective remote patient monitoring, which is particularly important for those with chronic conditions, as well as for providing prescription adherence reminders and push notifications regarding payments.

Legacy and Digital Intertwine

With this new digital landscape, patients also now expect clean, simplified interfaces across everything they do. But when it comes to healthcare services, this isn’t always the case, as many providers continue to rely on paper bills or ineffective patient portals. And while many healthcare institutions have enhanced their digital platforms, the overall patient experience can still feel incongruent – for instance, a patient may receive a bill in the mail and a reminder text message – both of which direct them to pay online.

As providers continue to improve upon digitization – from care delivery to payments – it’s important to balance the concept of providing patients with an array of useful options, without inundating them with excessive choice. Just as brand marketers map customer journeys from consideration to post-purchase behavior, healthcare companies should map the patient journey to understand each touchpoint and reveal gaps that can lead to a disjointed experience.

Digital optimization can also help healthcare institutions increase their bottom line. For instance, staff members’ time can be freed up from time-consuming tasks such as making phone calls, and streamlining systems to be fully virtual can save on the costs associated with multiple communications platforms, or even supply costs such as paper and postage.

Optimizing Revenue Cycles

In addition, by implementing digital tools, healthcare institutions can expedite communications and payments across the ecosystem, truncating revenue cycle length. This is extremely important right now, as a Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) survey found that 86% of healthcare providers saw a negative impact to revenue cycle operations during the first few months of the pandemic. While the environment continues to normalize, competition for patients is fierce, making liquidity all the more valuable to enable investments in organic and inorganic opportunities.

Digital payment solutions are tightening revenue cycles, as providers can share bills with patients in hours, instead of days or weeks. Patients may also be more inclined to pay quickly if they are billed quickly, as opposed to receiving a bill in the mail a month post-visit, which they may stack in a pile and forget about for several weeks.

On the reimbursement side, digital tools are improving accuracy. In fact, 90% of claims denials are preventable and two-thirds are appealable if organizations have the right data – which can be ascertained much more quickly through digital tools. Beyond the increased ability to back up claims, McKinsey found that the cost savings affiliated with the switch to digital reimbursement technology can be significant, as “payers can save as much as 10% to 20% of medical costs if they use a digital solution such as advanced analytics,” and that “payers can reduce their operating expenses for claims processing by up to 30% if robotic and automation solutions are employed.”

Looking Ahead

While the past year has taught us that you can never be fully prepared for anything, healthcare organizations that are adaptable and open to new approaches and technological solutions will be better positioned to navigate an increasingly complex and ever-changing landscape. As providers shift away from legacy practices to a more digitized, consumer-centric approach, they will position themselves to deliver quality care while driving better financial results.

Lauren Ruane, is co-head of Healthcare for Middle Market Banking & Specialized Industries, J.P. Morgan.