4 ways healthcare IT professionals are impacting patient financial experience

John Talaga
John Talaga
is the Executive Vice President and General Manager in Healthcare.

Recently, David King, Flywire’s CTO, and I had the opportunity to participate in a podcast with Brian Zimmerman, AVP of Client Content & Strategy at Becker’s Healthcare. The discussion focused on the role of provider IT teams in the patient financial experience. We touched on a lot of topics – from technology and security to staffing and the increased collaboration between IT and revenue cycle management. I wanted to share a few of the highlights from the discussion here. If you’d like to listen to the full podcast, you can download it here.

There were four big takeaways:

1. The role of the healthcare IT professional is more complex, and involves revenue cycle management

In our latest healthcare research: Behind the EHR: Healthcare’s hidden heroes of patient experience, we surveyed 200+ healthcare IT leaders about their roles and challenges. One of the big takeaways from the research was how much the IT role has changed. 94% of IT leaders said that their job is more complex than it was five years ago and that they’ve been forced to take on tasks outside of their traditional role. On the podcast, we talked about why that is and what it means in practice.

One reason is that there are more digital solutions on the market than ever before, so IT leadership plays a key role in sourcing and evaluating new technologies. AI, machine learning and analytics are at the top of most providers’ lists.

Another reason doesn’t really have anything to do with technology. Over the last 20 years, patient responsibility for healthcare costs has continued to rise – from about 10% to 30% today. Those unplanned expenses are a big reason for the healthcare affordability crisis. Patients owe more, and uncollected revenue levels are higher than ever.

Technology can help here. It can improve the financial experience by removing friction and improving patient engagement to increase the rate of collections. Those solutions have to integrate with the EHR system as well. As a result, we see more IT leaders getting involved in revenue cycle management purchase decisions. In fact, in Flywire’s survey, 90% of healthcare IT leaders said that patient collections is one of the metrics used to measure their job performance.

2. EHR systems play a key role in revenue cycle management

When it comes to the patient financial experience, a lot of the focus for IT teams is centered around the EHR because it drives the accounting and billing functions. To optimize revenue collection management, all the backend stuff has to work.

The problem is that EHRs are designed around clinical flow and medical records, not patient-facing billing and payment interactions. As a result, IT and revenue cycle management teams have to collaborate closely to sort out which aspects of the patient financial experience can be handled in the EHR and what aspects need to be enabled and enhanced outside of it with solutions like Flywire. There is also the issue mentioned above regarding the integration required to have those systems share information easily.

Flywire is designed for easy EHR integration (EPIC, Cerner and others) and providing those revenue cycle management capabilities that the EHR either doesn’t do, or doesn’t do well enough. For example, we provide access to consolidated billing statements and intuitive digital payment experiences. We also use machine learning and predictive analytics to determine a patient’s capacity to pay and their engagement preferences. This provides the ability to target personalized offers to patients such as payment plans to increase the rate of collections while also making the healthcare experience more affordable.

3. Staffing remains a big issue in provider IT departments, but IT pros are coming up with actionable solutions

IT staffing is a huge problem in healthcare. In our survey, 57% of respondents said that their IT department is understaffed, forcing them to put off new projects, outsource others, and look for new tools to help get them back on track. The biggest shortages are in data and security.

Adding to this challenge is the pace of change in technology. Staying up with all the new technologies and best practices to improve business operations or improve customer service is extremely difficult. Layer on the challenge of retaining staff and you have big problems.

In this environment, we see providers deploying several key strategies:

  • Making sure they are engaging and retaining the talent they have by providing clear career paths.
  • Upskilling their teams by providing ongoing training.
  • Not letting resource constraints hold them back from innovating. They look to expert partners to outsource things like payments where it makes sense.
  • Ensuring the technology solutions they deploy are easy to use for business users. This shortens build times and minimizes requirements for IT teams.

4. The more digital the payment system, the more important security becomes

My colleague David King compares healthcare to a mall of services. Many are outside of actual health services, e.g., dining, hotels, flower shops, etc., but all are potential areas of attack. Securing that breadth of a network is critically important and also very difficult.

In David’s view, healthcare providers have the “richest” and “dirtiest” of all datasets—personally identifiable information (PII) such as name, address, and date of birth; protected health information (PHI), which is procedure-related; and patient financial information. It’s basically all the data a bad actor needs—making it a very “target rich” environment.

How can healthcare IT teams protect themselves? Our advice is to minimize the amount and type of data they store. By working with payment processing partners like Flywire, you can shift patient financial data outside of your network, to reduce the overall footprint of security concern, as well as the onus to keep up with changing standards and compliance mandates. Flywire is very involved in payment security standards like PCI DSS and card network standards. We can take responsibility for those security standards and compliance mandates off their plate so they can focus on the business of healthcare.