A Patient Portal Designed to Shrink Paper for an Expanding Patient Population

By Craig Hodges
08:25 AM
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Remember when we had to go inside the gas station to pay for our fill-up? Or when we bought books at the mall? Of course we can revert to these dated traditions, but the same automation that has injected greater convenience to our lives has also streamlined delivery and payment processing for vendors. A win-win for everyone.  

Admittedly, healthcare is behind the technology curve when it comes to payment processes. But many provider organizations are quickly catching up to the retail industry, implementing user-friendly technologies that offer patients a secure, online portal for settling their medical bills. Such automated payment management solutions enable faster collection of patient-owed amounts, expand a healthcare organization’s payment channels and automate the payment acceptance process, giving providers the opportunity to increase cash flow while reducing administrative costs.

But it is a less-touted, often-overlooked benefit that may prove to be the breakout factor for wider acceptance of self-service payment processing among provider organizations: less paperwork. In the face of increasing patient populations, automated solutions are encouraging individuals to eschew paper, lowering hospitals’ outbound billing volume and, in turn, the costs associated with sending a printed patient statement.

Rather than mailing a statement, healthcare organizations can send an email with a link to a secure section on the hospital’s website. From there, individuals can easily view, manage and pay their bills online. And like other web-based payment systems, patients may have direct access to their account information, allowing them to perform many tasks in a self-service environment, such as managing preferences, updating demographic information and viewing outstanding balances and due dates.

Hospitals, however, must approach a self-serve payment portal strategy with care to avoid mishaps. For example, a poorly designed portal that doesn’t include adequate information or instructions could lower patient satisfaction levels and lead to collection delays. The following are three important factors that healthcare organizations should consider prior to implementation of a patient-facing online payment tool:

•    Ensure the portal communicates the various ways a patient can contact the organization and even reach a live customer support representative when necessary. Each page or screen should offer phone and fax numbers, email addresses and details about how the individual can best submit questions or comments and receive an expedited response.

•    Protect patient financial information and identities with the appropriate information security standards. A portal vendor should be compliant with Payment Card Industry (PCI) data security principles, which are designed to ensure firms that process and maintain credit card information do so in a secure environment. Likewise, the portal should prominently display the organization’s privacy and protection policies.

•    Make sure the website is easy to navigate with a simple user interface. And to streamline the patient experience further, hospitals should consider a system design that allows for recurring payments, including options such as regular credit card transactions or automatic checking account withdrawals.

Providing individuals with online access to tend to their medical bills fits squarely within most hospitals’ mission to serve their communities with the highest levels of care and respect. A payment portal empowers patients with enhanced control over their accounts and encourages a greater sense of financial responsibility. These two factors positively impact collection rates as well as patient satisfaction levels. It’s truly a win-win for both providers and patients.

 

Craig Hodges is currently the Vice President of Operations at Emdeon. In this role, Craig provides strategic direction and guidance for operational activities that support Emdeon’s Patient Billing & Payment Solutions.