The impact of Covid-19 on consumer behavior has been “sweeping and immediate,” a McKinsey and Company study found. To succeed in the “next normal,” organizations must raise the bar for digital excellence, anticipate customers’ needs, and meet increased expectations for a safe environment—findings that have strong implications for the healthcare revenue cycle.
Consider the ways in which Covid-19 transformed digital healthcare behavior. Before the coronavirus outbreak, just one in 10 consumers had tried telehealth. Now, experts predict virtual care visits will soar to more than 1 billion this year—and 89% of consumers report that they are satisfied or very satisfied with the experience. As this shift takes place, healthcare revenue cycle departments must assess how demand for digital access and excellence at each point in the care experience affects expectations for the patient financial experience—and where to invest to gain competitive advantage.
What are the Covid-related changes in consumer behavior that will stick in the healthcare revenue cycle following the pandemic—and how can the healthcare revenue cycle proactively respond? Here are three trends that could reshape customer service in the revenue cycle.
The move toward digital-first interactions
Consumers have “recalibrated their expectations for safety” following the pandemic, the McKinsey study notes, with a strong desire for contactless service. Today’s digital-first consumer will expect virtual check-in—from online collection of data to communications via text or app that let patients know when their healthcare provider is ready to see them. For the revenue cycle, this means increasing the emphasis on tools that support online scheduling, remote eligibility checks, and digital financial communications with patients. It necessitates a revamp of traditional front-office procedures, including a shift away from capturing updates to patients’ medical history and billing information on paper or in the office. And it calls for communications delivered in the consumers’ preferred channel of delivery, from email to text to online apps or even phone (still a preferred option among many seniors).
Revenue cycle teams should explore opportunities to tighten up processes by transferring paper-based work to electronic interactions. When patients require one-to-one support, look for ways to engage patients by chat or by phone, where needed, depending on their preference. While a study conducted about seven months before the pandemic indicated some consumers were hesitant to incorporate chat bots into their healthcare experience, the desire to limit exposure to Covid-19 likely has changed their mindset. One best practice for adoption of chatbots and other tools: Emphasize safety, speed and convenience.
Heightened demand for price transparency
Covid-19 upped the ante for price transparency in healthcare. Today, 5.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance as a result of job losses related to the pandemic—more than have ever lost coverage in a single year. However, even before the pandemic, there were signs that price transparency had the power to sway consumers’ choice in providers. A 2019 McKinsey survey found that 60% of consumers wanted more information before deciding where to seek care—including information around price.
Convincing consumers to seek necessary and preventive medical care during a time of economic uncertainty requires that leaders close the gap between the level of price transparency consumers desire and the degree of openness that currently exists. That means investing in tools that make it easy for patients to obtain meaningful cost information—ideally, the patient’s anticipated out-of-pocket costs after insurance. Such estimates should take into account the portion of the patient’s deductible met to date. It’s an approach that not only reduces confusion, but also demonstrates a higher degree of sophistication in transparency efforts and fuels higher levels of consumer trust. It also reduces the strain on customer service teams that may be handling higher-than-average call volumes.
The rise in anticipatory customer service
The financial stressors related to Covid-19 are numerous—and they aren’t limited to the expense of a Covid-19 initial diagnosis or record levels of unemployment:
- 87% of Covid-19 patients experience a lingering symptom two months after they were diagnosed.
- Patients with lingering symptoms aren’t limited to those who had severe cases of Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, one-third of “long haulers” who were not hospitalized experienced symptoms three months after diagnosis, the CDC found.
- Those who experience ongoing effects of Covid-19 may face high healthcare bills. For patients who remain too ill to work, these costs are especially overwhelming.
These financial stressors weigh heavily on consumers’ minds, and they likely will shape consumer purchasing decisions long after the pandemic is over. As a result, the ability to anticipate patients’ financial needs and respond with agility and compassion will prove in the months ahead.
To successfully engage consumers who seek medically necessary treatment as well as those who have postponed preventive care, revenue cycle departments must take a hard look at the barriers that keep consumers from returning to healthcare facilities. Such barriers include lack of information around cost and options for managing their medical expense.
With this information in hand, consumers should then:
- Proactively reach out to patients to schedule postponed care.
- Uncover the concerns that hold patients back from scheduling treatment.
- Offer customized, highly flexible solutions—including around payment—that meet individuals’ needs.
Increased flexibility around payment terms and financing options is critical. Consider offering not just deep discounts for patients who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but also short-term and long-term financing that makes monthly payments more affordable. Give patients the option to self-manage their accounts, with the option to lower monthly payments when financial circumstances change, and allow them to combine accounts into a single payment plan.
Developing a Consumer-First Approach
The all-encompassing impact of Covid-19 on consumers and their families requires that hospitals rethink their approach to consumer financial engagement. By anticipating the trends that could stick following Covid-19, revenue cycle leaders can develop a patient-friendly experience that promotes patient retention and satisfaction and strengthens their organization’s financial health.
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