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Demystifying digital patient financial engagement: 4 ways AI can help

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When designed effectively, digital payment and financial communications can have a substantial impact on a hospital or health system’s bottom line. But patients still commonly receive their bills by mail.

Healthcare’s digital front door pushed wide open during the pandemic, offering access with the touch of a smartphone or digital device. But some rooms inside a healthcare organization’s “digital home” are only partially accessible—and typically, payment is one of them.

When designed effectively, digital payment and financial communications can have a substantial impact on a hospital or health system’s bottom line. A U.S. Bank survey found 44% of consumers will pay more quickly when notified about their patient account balance via email, text or automated phone notification. One in four would use a mobile wallet to pay their bill if they had the option, and about 1 in 3 wished their provider offered payment options via a money transfer service like Zelle or Venmo.

Yet 51% of consumers still receive healthcare bills by mail, the survey found. Even when digital payment options are offered for medical bills, the range of options is limited— typically, to credit card payment via a portal.

Digital-first collections and financial communications—supported by artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled technologies—are fast becoming a way to ramp up patient financial engagement without investing in additional staff. They put consumers in control of their financial experience while simplifying the payment process. They also significantly reduce call volumes—critical at a time when revenue cycle vacancies are becoming harder to fill.

Here are four ways AI-enabled patient financial experiences can help drive engagement and self-pay collections.

1. AI-powered financial communications meet patients where they are.

Leading healthcare revenue cycle departments leverage AI to determine how patients wish to be contacted based on characteristics such as age, gender and response to previous communications. Predictive analytics also help pinpoint when messages should be sent, down to the day of the week and time of day when a patient is most likely to respond. It’s an approach that generates a response from the patient on first contact 76% of the time.

2. AI communications become smarter over time.

With machine learning, revenue cycle teams can finetune their approach to the individual, from the mechanism for engagement (e.g., secure text, email) to the type of messaging that is most likely to resonate with the consumer. For instance, if a consumer’s previous payment history indicates a pattern of paying $100 every two weeks toward medical account balances, AI-powered communications can direct the individual toward the hospital’s payment plan options early in the patient encounter, when the likelihood of financial engagement is highest. This eliminates the inefficiency of customer call centers at a time when 94% of unknown calls go unanswered.

3. AI tools put the patient financial experience in the hands of consumers.

For instance, robotic process automation (RPA)—or “bots”—can assist patients in answering the financial questions that are top of mind at the start of the encounter or when a bill is generated: “What is my out-of-pocket cost? Has insurance paid its portion of the bill? What are my options for payment?” Bots also prevent data gaps and inaccuracies from the start of the encounter by prompting patients to provide missing data and automatically checking data against a reference database or information from the payer. For one healthcare organization, the use of RPA to engage self-pay patients drove a 70% increase in patients who paid their balance due after insurance. Meanwhile, the health system’s liquidation rate rose 43 percent.

4. AI-based financial engagement speeds the rate of recovery.

Sixty percent of consumers say the way in which they are contacted regarding a medical bill impacts how quickly they pay their bill, the U.S. Bank survey found, with digital options driving most of the increase in speed to payment. One study found that even among patients whose accounts were delinquent, 73% of those in late delinquency made a payment when contacted digitally. Among these consumers, email and text were the preferred methods of communication. Given that more than half of consumers surveyed have shifted to digital payment for healthcare bills since the Covid-19 pandemic began, digital financial communications—informed by AI—present strong potential to increase engagement while reducing the cost to collect.

A digital entryway for the healthcare revenue cycle

Just as hospitals and health systems need a digital front door to connect with consumers when and where they need care, they also require digital entry points and support for the last stage of the healthcare encounter: medical payment. 

Covid-19 accelerated digital payments among consumers 50 and younger, yet healthcare makes digital payment more difficult than any other industry, the U.S. Bank survey found. By adopting a more modern, highly digital approach informed by AI, healthcare revenue cycle teams can more effectively meet patients where they are, driving financial engagement and a better payment experience.

Randall Shafer

Randall Shafer is Executive Vice President & Global Head, Hospital Business for Firstsource

This post appears through the MedCity Influencers program. Anyone can publish their perspective on business and innovation in healthcare on MedCity News through MedCity Influencers. Click here to find out how.

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