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The pandemic should put health care billing innovation in the spotlight

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The coronavirus and subsequent economic challenges have drawn more attention to health care payments than ever before, and how new strategies and technology can be helpful for consumers and the industry.

With sizable room for improvement already, the COVID-19 pandemic entered the scene and caused further disruption.

The healthcare payments space has seen major spikes in surprise medical bills and confusing COVID-related fees this year, and it would be naive to think that COVID-19’s impact on patient billing will end when the year, or even when the pandemic is over. Compassionate billing, transaction transparency and price transparency will all play a major role in the next year.

This year has been tough for everyone, and most have suffered emotionally and/or financially in some way due to COVID-19, coping as best they can with endless levels of uncertainty. Especially with the rise of COVID-19-related surprise medical bills, these challenges are sure to continue into the new year, impacting medical collections. Health care providers should embrace compassionate billing, in which physicians offer patients facing hardships more opportunities to pay, such as a flexible payment plan or discounts.

Making sure the bills patients receive are accurate, including having the correct insurance information, can help foster patient trust and set financial expectations.

By making medical billing more digestible for the patient and having billing conversations upfront, rather than after a surprise medical bill arrives, providers can help build and maintain patient trust and enhance patient satisfaction rates. As providers reckon with the financial and emotional impact of COVID-19 on patients in 2020, I expect to see a significant focus on improving patient financial engagement and experiences in 2021 — far beyond the confines of this health crisis.

Price transparency is another important measure. “’Price transparency" was once a phrase rarely uttered in healthcare, but the rising consumerization of health care has changed that drastically.

Even pre-pandemic, patient financial burden has skyrocketed over the last decade — as of 2018, out-of-pocket payments accounted for $375 billion and are projected to grow to $563 billion, according to CMS National Expenditure data. And COVID-19 has added another layer of pressure as many consumers have lost their jobs and health insurance.

Patients are paying more out-of-pocket than ever, and as a result, expect to be informed consumers of healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a poor economy, is increasing scrutiny of healthcare prices and that will only continue. But new mandates like the CMS’ impending price transparency regulations are opportunities for hospitals to meet consumer expectations and lower healthcare costs by enabling consumers to compare prices, and proactively shop for care.

The choices providers make about how to engage patients on price transparency will make or break patient acquisition and loyalty, and ultimately business results in the coming years. The path to comply is no small task, but those that embrace solutions designed to empathize with and empower consumers will gain a competitive advantage and come out ahead.

And economic struggles resulting from COVID-19 will lead to smarter health tech adoptions. The digital health market truly boomed in 2020. Telehealth platforms, digital billing solutions, touchless pre-visit intake tools, AI-powered health assessment apps; these have all become part of our “new normal.” Some credit the adoption of these tools to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the real driver has been the economic hardship resulting from it — patients and providers alike have experienced financial struggles.

Because of this, providers are looking to invest strategically in tools that support their business goals and give them a competitive edge. Likewise, patients are feeling more cost-conscious about care decisions than ever and expect their health care experiences to mirror those they receive as consumers when shopping on Amazon, for example.

As such, providers will continue looking for smart technologies that can drive efficiencies and consolidate all the information that they need — solutions that can automate and manage different technologies in a more efficient way. Rather than just providing more digital access, providers will be expected to offer a cohesive, consolidated and consumer-centric digital access point for all patient interactions. As we enter 2021 amid these economic challenges, I expect to see strategic investments in health tech from providers seeking to cut costs while delivering a better patient experience.

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