People are ignoring their health bills. Can you blame them?

October 07, 2019

5 minute read

I walk into my local supermarket and I get a notification sent to my phone with coupons for diapers for my 1 year old, Goldfish for my 4 year old, and Diet Coke for me (how well they know me!).

I log into Amazon and the site loads up my previously viewed items — and even notifies me when a few of them go on sale, recommending items that others have purchased with it to complete the purchase experience.

I get it. There are ulterior motives to these actions. They want me to buy more. But I am OK with this because I was going to buy these items eventually anyway. I want the companies I interact with often to know me. I want them to know me well enough to make my life easier throughout the whole process, but not too well where I feel they are dipping into my wallet when I am not looking. Most industries are finally learning how to do this the right way.

Except for a few.

I went to the doctor almost two months ago. I received a paper bill yesterday. It was confusing. There were 8 line items for a 45 minute visit. I remember receiving an explanation of benefits (EOB) a few weeks earlier but, I threw away the 15 page document as soon as I saw “THIS IS NOT A BILL.”

I do plan to eventually pay this bill, but a growing percentage of Americans are choosing not to pay their medical bills right away. Not because they can’t afford it (though that’s often true) — but because they don’t understand them, and they don’t trust them because they are riddled with errors. In fact, according to a 2016 survey conducted by Copatient, 72% of consumers are confused by their medical bills (Link).

Confusion comes from complexity. While medicine can at times be highly specialized and complex, reading your bills from the application of medicine shouldn’t require a dual degree in Organic Chemistry and Calculus. Successful organizations understand the importance of simplifying the complex; taking complicated technical specifications and slimming them down to business-specific language tailored to their audience. Medical billing is not tailoring their bills to their audience. Current medical bills copy the complicated medical jargon, visit types, consultation remarks and paste them to the bills with an associated dollar amount owed. I might prefer this type of bill if I was a physician. I am not a physician. The current medical billing process doesn’t know me. If they want me to pay, they need to learn who I am. They need to engage me, specifically.

Medical Billing Lags in Customer Engagement

In the healthcare field, it’s crucial that the patient pays and — if the medical relationship is ongoing — that the patient returns and gives positive referrals to others. Unfortunately, patients do not like their medical billing experiences. In fact, two-thirds of patients would switch providers for a better billing or payment experience [LINK]. The current medical billing process leaves patients 30% “less happy” than they were right after their doctor’s visit. [ LINK]. Post-care billing is often the patient’s last interaction with a healthcare provider, and historically it has been negative, if not an outright failure.

As my previous example shows, it’s not hard to see why. Most patient billing is still stuck in the archaic mode of sending repeated paper bills via postal mail. Where patient billing portals do exist, they typically offer nothing more than PDF versions of their paper statement, with little or no additional details or interactions available. Medical billing has resisted digitally-driven personalization, to the detriment of all stakeholders. Confusion ensues, and people don’t readily pay things that they don’t fully understand. In fact, 75% of patients say that understanding their out-of-pocket costs improvestheir ability to pay for healthcare (LINK). If the medical billing industry wants to stop this trend, then they need to engage with the patient beyond 3 paper bills and a collections notice.

A medical billing process that knows me.

To become personalized, medical billing requires communication with patients to be dynamic and fluid. The interaction needs to switch between paper statements, email, text and voice depending on which channels are predicted to deliver the best payment performance — in amount paid, rapidity of payment and patient satisfaction. Furthermore, the messaging needs to always be specific towards the patient’s circumstances, to drive towards the desired outcome.

This type of engagement doesn’t come easy. But it is worth the investment. To achieve a personalized experience the system must have access to a wealth of data on patient interactions, and leverage algorithms to predict the best engagement preferences, preferred payment methods and forecast basic patient questions.

This is not some pie-in-the-sky dream. There are practices doing this with the help of a 3rd party solution. In fact, practices that switch to an automated, data-driven patient engagement platform report 30% higher revenues from patient billing. [Source: Results reported by customers of Inbox Health].

Takeaways / Conclusion

Personalization and engagement are recognized as essentials for profitability — or even survival in online retail, real estate brokerage, and many other consumer-focused businesses. They complete the pathway to higher sales and customer retention. For medical billing organizations, far too much uncollected billing is “sitting on the table” and transaction costs are unnecessarily high. The time is overdue to adopt technology which provides personalization, expands the options for patients to pay their bills, and permanently lowers the costs of billing.