In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, crucial lessons can be learned from every facet of the global economy. Every industry was significantly impacted, but none as fundamentally as healthcare.
Emergency rooms and ICUs filled with sick patients, while routine tests, visits and procedures all but ceased for several months during the pandemic’s first wave. Telehealth visits skyrocketed, as did contactless channels for consumers to connect with healthcare providers, including online payments. While telehealth visits have declined since their peak early in the pandemic, contactless communications show no signs of slowing down and represent a way to improve the patient experience and help providers collect more money from patients at a lower cost.
Consumers express strong preference for electronic payments
Consumer demand for and acceptance of contactless (often digital) experiences have been increasing for years, but 2020 proved a watershed when the importance of capturing rising demand was fully realized. Most consumers want these digital options to continue after the pandemic ends, including telehealth, online check-in, digital payments and electronic communications.
According to the InstaMed Consumer Healthcare Payments Survey 2020:
- 78% want contactless payments after the pandemic
- 85% prefer an electronic payment method for medical bills.
For providers, electronic and contactless options are no longer just nice to have. They are a necessity to compete with other providers, gain a larger market share, participate in interoperative health initiatives and meet consumer demands. When healthcare delivers digital innovation, consumers take advantage of it.
More than half (54%) of providers changed their contactless payment strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 36% of providers adopted contactless payments for patient connections, such as online payments, according to the InstaMed Provider Healthcare Payments Survey 2020. Such measures are shown to save practices time and effort.
Electronic transactions offer considerable savings potential to providers as demonstrated by payment-related transactions with payers. Research from CAQH indicates that manual transactions cost $5.42 more than electronic ones and take nine minutes more to handle. Adopting electronic payments saves providers money while adding minutes to daily staff schedules.
Smaller medical practices see bigger benefits
While medical practices of all sizes can benefit from contactless visits and payments, practices with 15 or fewer physicians saw the greatest growth in contactless payment channels for 2020, including payment plans and online payments. Both payment channels allow organizations to increase collections with minimal staff involvement and fewer resources, such as paper statements. Even before the pandemic, the efficiency of contactless payments attracted smaller organizations that needed to increase cash flow without incurring additional costs. Analysis from the InstaMed Data Network shows that smaller organizations saw a 55% increase in online payments and a 64% increase in payment plans, even when non-essential services were closed.
The financial consequences of the pandemic require providers of all sizes to quickly find new solutions to meet their payment challenges. However, disconnects exist between payment types that physicians offer and what consumers want. While 91% of providers accept electronic payments, most bills are paper-based and rely on time-consuming and expensive manual processes. An estimated 93% of providers still rely on paper-based transactions to collect money, yet 85% of consumers prefer an electronic payment method for medical bills.
To rebuild, post pandemic, contactless channels will be crucial to cut costs, promote efficiency and improve collections. The path to contactless interactions begins with electronic payments, which allow providers to securely save consumer payment cards on file. Providers should not fear patient pushback on this, as 83% of consumers have a payment method on file or are open to doing so.1 For healthcare specifically, the number of cards on file on the InstaMed Network between 2017 and 2020 increased by 206%, for an average growth rate of 45% year over year.
One key lesson from the pandemic has been renewed awareness of the opportunities for innovation from the exam room to the back office, as telehealth and other contactless connections saw incredible and sustained adoption. All stakeholders in healthcare should prioritize these trends that create opportunities for future growth, such as streamlined payment options to accelerate recovery.
To dig deeper into these trends, the full Trends in Healthcare Payments Annual Report is available online at www.instamed.com/trends.
- Mastercard. "Mastercard Study Shows Consumers Globally Make the Move to Contactless Payments for Everyday Purchases, Seeking Touch-Free Payment Experiences." April 2020