Patient Financial Engagement: The Road Map of Engaging Patients on Payments - Cover

Patient Financial Engagement: The Road Map of Engaging Patients on Payments

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the KLAS Research Digital Health Investment Symposium (DHIS 2023), a gathering of healthcare providers, companies, and investors focused on what’s ahead in healthcare. Amid a myriad of insights, one panel discussion stood out. It was a deep dive into the shifting landscape of healthcare’s engagement of patients, specifically around finances. 

The consumer tech world continues to sprint into the future of financial transactions; I’m sure you’ve seen the “palm reader” payment method in a TikTok at this point. And while I’m not saying we need “wave your hand to pay” kiosks at the front desk of every clinic, the emergence of new tech around financial transactions does highlight that healthcare’s current patient financial engagement looks—and feels—like something from a bygone era.

Which was exactly what the panelists (John Talaga, EVP of Healthcare at Flywire; Nick Zafirson, VP of Partnerships at Cedar; Scott MacKenzie, CEO of RevSpring; and Todd Woods, EVP of Enterprise Sales and Business Development at Waystar, moderated by Mark Wise, Director at TripleTree) zeroed in on in their discussion.

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From left to right: John Talega from Flywire, Scott MacKenzie from RevSpring, Todd Woods from Waystar, Mark Wise from TripleTree and Nick Zafirson from Cedar after sharing their perspectives about patient financial engagement at KLAS DHIS 2023.

The Urgency for a Consumer-Grade Patient Experience

The prevailing sentiment during the panel was the dire need for a consumerized experience for patients. As the digital transformation wave sweeps across industries, healthcare isn't exempt. However, despite a proliferation of features like Apple Pay and payment plans, the industry struggles with creating an intuitive, easy-to-understand user experience. Essentially, while we might have the tools, the tools don't necessarily translate to genuine engagement. As one panelist noted, “Features don’t equal engagement. If they did, Apple Maps wouldn’t get beat on its own devices.”

Features vs. Functionalities: The Patients’ Perspective

From a patient's viewpoint, there’s a palpable disconnect between what hospitals offer and what they truly need. The introduction of new tech features often comes across as a box-checking exercise rather than a genuine effort to improve the patient experience. Many patients prefer no-nonsense, easy-to-use solutions compared to overwrought technological ones.

As I once heard it put, “Healthcare is the only industry where I can have no idea of the costs incurred until after the fact. I never leave the mechanic’s shop without at least an estimate for repairs, regardless of complexity or the type of car I’m driving.” And heaven forbid you get a bill from the shop and then two months later a separate bill from the mechanic themselves. But that’s exactly what we expect patients to be okay with in healthcare.

Care is Leaking out of Hospitals

Perhaps one of the most significant transitions happening in healthcare today is the industry’s shift from traditional, hospital-centric models to more community-based ones. Healthcare is rapidly leaking out of the four walls of the health system. With remote patient monitoring, AI, virtual care visits, and online pharmacy options, technology is driving care further and further out of the hospital. This transition brings about its own set of challenges, not the least of which is integrating diverse systems and platforms to offer a unified patient experience. 

The diversification of healthcare services calls for solutions that are not only robust but also scalable. The future, it seems, belongs to platforms that can seamlessly integrate and scale across the diverse care settings of the future.

Tailoring the Patient Experience

As the panel discussion evolved, there was a strong emphasis on the need for a tailored patient experience. In an era marked by customization and personal preferences, a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t cut it. Healthcare IT solutions must offer flexibility and adaptability, catering to the digital native as well as those who might lean more toward print and mail. This resonated with my own experience in healthcare. As an industry native, I have very different needs and expectations from my care providers than my retiree patient counterparts.

When it comes to payments specifically, the current systems often feel like a labyrinth for patients. Consolidated payment platforms, offering clarity and ease, can significantly alleviate this. However, a more collaborative approach between various healthcare providers is imperative to achieve this customized patient experience.

The Delicate Dance between Providers and Payers

One of the more contentious points in the discussion revolved around the often-misaligned objectives of healthcare providers and payers. While there is mutual ground in places, systemic friction persists. At its core, the friction between providers and payers comes from opposing objectives that are tied to revenue and critical to both parties’ bottom lines. 

The best chance for improving the patient experience comes from finding the shared wins. That starts with transparency in patient billing and benefits. Then, the panelists argued, we can pave the way for more harmonious interactions.

The Era of Consumer Giants in Healthcare

Lastly, the panelists delved into a topic that’s been on everyone’s minds: the entry of tech and retail giants, like CVS, Walmart, and others, into the healthcare realm. 

Just today, I saw someone on LinkedIn argue, “No app or retail chain can replace the trust between a patient and their provider." Truthfully, this sort of complacency is what those retail giants are banking on. This panel, composed of leaders from companies offering different payment and engagement capabilities to the healthcare industry, expressed a warm reception to these oversized market entrants. While their current customers (the health systems) may look at the consumer giants as a grim reaper, the solution providers themselves see is a large, untapped market of newcomers with the funding and determination to carve out a piece of healthcare’s spending.

Final Thoughts

So, what does this mean for the healthcare investing community? For starters, it's clear that the healthcare IT space is ripe for innovation and growth. Investments that focus on enhancing patient experiences, providing scalable solutions, and fostering collaboration between providers and payers are likely to yield dividends. Mark Wise from TripleTree provided a succinct perspective about the future: “It’s clear that all constituents across healthcare, from provider to payer to patient, need and expect more when it comes to accurate reimbursement, flexible and integrated payment capabilities, and consumer-driven patient engagement strategies—creating the backdrop for continued innovation, market attention, and investment in the years ahead.”

Furthermore, the entry of consumer giants into healthcare presents both challenges and opportunities. The savvy investor would do well to keep an eye on this space, looking for collaborations, partnerships, or even potential acquisitions.

The DHIS panel served as a timely reminder of the evolving dynamics of the healthcare IT landscape. As we look to the future, it's apparent that adaptability, collaboration, and patient-centricity will be the guiding lights leading the way.

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