How Hospitals are Managing Healthcare Payments

in the Face of a Pandemic

Colin Mellon / Senior Vice President, Healthcare and Insurance Solutions Fiserv

Woman and child looking at phone

Four months ago, the healthcare industry was pushed to the breaking point with the onset of COVID-19. Today, the industry remains in a state of flux as it grapples with the ongoing health crisis and related financial challenges. And, even once the immediate emergency passes, providers are not likely to return to business-as-usual for some time.

Recently, Fiserv hosted a webinar with three industry experts to discuss the coronavirus impact to hospital and patient interactions, rising trends, and technology innovations. This panel discussion provided insights from HealthPay24, Northwell Health, and PatientPay.

With a drop in elective procedures, which are the lifeblood of hospital revenue, many have had to furlough hospital staff and curtail other services. Our panel experts discussed how the financial strains put on the entire healthcare system have highlighted the importance of improving payment and collection processes.

There is a growing need to be proactive and innovative when it comes to collections. Patients are increasingly shifting to digital payments, which has put the onus on the healthcare industry to partner with revenue cycle management organizations and technology vendors to meet this need. Of course, for an industry where privacy compliance is mandated, the security of payment information also remains of paramount importance. The pandemic has already led to an increase in cybercrime and fraud, which has made things even more challenging for providers.

Beyond protecting data, improving the efficiency of collections, and offering more healthcare payment options, providers have a responsibility to help customers and patients manage their financial responsibilities effectively. COVID-19 has underscored the need for solutions to meet these urgent issues.

Commerce During a Pandemic

Many industries are dealing with the challenges of safely making collections in the midst of a pandemic. Contactless payments have emerged as the preferred choice of consumers. According to Julie Gerdeman, CEO of HealthPay24, a patient financial engagement platform driving solutions for the increasing patient pay responsibility, this consumer choice has led the healthcare industry to focus on contactless commerce. "One of the lasting impacts of COVID-19 will be contactless commerce, whether it be digital wallets on mobile phones, or old school IVR pay-by-phone options. We are also seeing new payment methods emerge, such as HealthPay24's newly launched feature Text-to-Collect, which allows patients to manage copayments before even setting foot in the healthcare facility for an appointment. Flexible payment plans, and discounts for those who pay in full, are just some of the innovations that can improve the patient experience and help providers in these trying times," stated Gerdeman.

Dealing with the Challenges of Work-from-Home

As most organizations have shifted to work-from-home models, there has been a greater reliance on technology tools, which then create new challenges. Within the revenue cycle management function, employees, such as collectors and registrars, are being tasked with conducting business remotely. The technology employees use while working at home is most important. "Ensuring HIPAA and PCI compliance often comes down to whether employees are using company issued devices or laptops. Another factor is how safe and secure the home office environment is. For example, using a headset on a phone call is a small but vital step in ensuring private information is kept confidential. Encryption of all communications is also critical," explained Gerdeman.

Healthcare provider organizations should work with their IT departments and security teams to ensure remote work arrangements are safe and secure.

Contingency Planning is Key to PCI Compliance

Nearly every organization has contingency plans in place in the event of a business disruption. However, few could have anticipated anything as disruptive as the pandemic we are experiencing now. For Northwell Health, rapidly pivoting and adopting technology and multiple collection mechanisms has been critical in managing during this crisis. "Our emergency management teams had done a lot of business continuity planning, which helped us respond to the work-from-home demands of COVID-19. In order to ensure PCI compliance when accepting credit and debit cards for healthcare payments from patients, we conducted mandatory trainings for all remote users to reinforce the need for our collections personnel to strictly follow the rules for maintaining a secure environment at home. It is vitally important that we protect not only PII and credit card information, but also PHI," explained Corinne Rotoli, Senior Vice President, Chief Audit Officer for Northwell Health.

Rotoli also stated that planning and constant communications have been instrumental in keeping revenue cycle functions operational. "Today we are working remotely, and quite honestly, much of this may become permanent. The key to success is detailed planning, and communications from the top. In fact, we are pushing out information to our people on a constant basis in an effort to be as transparent as possible. Everyone needs to understand the contingencies that the organization has put in place and how they work within the new structure," added Rotoli.

The Importance of an Omni-channel Approach to Patient Engagement

To create effective patient engagement, healthcare organizations should consider taking an omni-channel approach. "In the world that we live in today, it's getting harder for healthcare providers and their revenue cycle management partners to collect payments and it's getting harder from a patient perspective to afford payments. We are finding that an omni-channel approach that offers a wide range of touch points is best received by patients. For example, we focus heavily on text communications and found that 77% of patients that accessed our online platform from February to June did so from a mobile device. It's equally important to give them the tools to be able to pay in whatever manner they want. In the same period of time, 85% of patients made payments from their mobile phone. In addition, the idea is to simplify bills so patients can understand them and match them up to their EOB. Most patients really like their doctors and are willing to pay assuming they know that they should pay and have the ability to pay in a manner that suits their needs," said Tom Furr, CEO and founder for PatientPay.

Creating a Healthier Payment Ecosystem

Before the pandemic arrived, consumers had been increasingly relying on mobile apps for interactions with everything from retailers to healthcare providers. In the ensuing months, there's little doubt that the demand for greater choice has expanded. Electronic payment channels are also providing healthcare organizations an expedient means for pushing money out to patients.

Whether it's an insurance reimbursement or an office visit refund, providers can use digital channels to more efficiently issue funds to patients. This eliminates cumbersome and costly paper checks, while providing near real-time access to tools consumers already prefer – receiving funds via mobile wallet, debit card, or ACH. These no touch, no contact, no paper options are clearly the wave of the future and are ideal in this time of COVID-19.

These are clearly challenging time for the healthcare industry. Of course, payment problems certainly rank far below the health and well-being of patients and care providers, but keeping the industry financially healthy is an important task. Healthcare organizations and technology organizations have an opportunity to create a healthier healthcare payment ecosystem that serves both the patients and the healthcare providers.

To learn more on this topic, register and replay the Fiserv webinar, COVID-19 Is Changing How Hospitals Manage Healthcare.