Creating a Patient-centric Payment Experience for International Patients Part 1

August 16, 2018

In part 1 of the series 'Creating a patient-centric payment experience for international patients', Flywire explores the challenges facing health organizations aiming to receive international payments.

When you look beyond your local community to begin or grow the number of international patients that you care for, you will face a whole new set of challenges. Instead of competing with hospitals around the corner, you’re now competing with hospitals around the world. On the other side of the equation are added challenges that the patient will face. A hospital or clinic has to meet certain needs of the patient in order to make the international journey for care worthwhile. To be successful, hospitals need to adopt a patient-centric approach, meaning you understand and address the challenges and needs of the patient. This includes taking a fresh look at the patient financial experience. Working directly with patients as well as some of the top United States healthcare systems with well-established international patient programs, has allowed us to identify some of the unique challenges that international patients face in the payment process.

The unique challenges of cross-border payments

Traveling out of your home country for care is stressful. Whether you are traveling for help with having a baby or for a newly developed life-saving procedure, the last thing the patient needs to worry about is how to pay. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options for international payments. If their care is not covered by insurance or an embassy, the patient is left to tackle the challenges of making an international payment by themselves. In this two-part series, we will first walk you through some of the biggest challenges the patient will face in the payment process. In the second part of the series, we will detail some of the actions a hospital or clinic can take to make the payment process better for both the hospital and the patient.

  • Inconvenient payment options - Most hospitals offer online payment tools for patients, but those rarely have the ability to take international payments. A wire transfer sounds like an easy option, but the patient is charged a high rate from the bank and after they start the process, the patient has no idea where the money is in flight. The patient can call the hospital to process a credit card over the phone but caring for international patients means doing business in international time zones. Is your billing department taking calls at 3:00 a.m. from across the globe?
  • Credit cards hurdles - Credit cards are the easiest and fastest method of payment. However, speed and convenience come at a cost. Not only will the patient be charged between 3-6% of the payment from their credit card company for the currency conversion, but the hospital loses between 2-4% of the payment for merchant processing fees. Add all of those fees up and almost 10% of the payment is deducted before it reaches the hospital.
  • Wire transfer challenges - When a patient initiates a wire transfer, they go to the bank, make the transfer, and then cross their fingers and hope the money gets to the hospital. It’s the cheapest way to send money internationally for a reason. It’s slow, taking anywhere from 3 to 10 business days to reach its destination, and provides no insight into who holds the money at any given time. Both the patient and the hospital are likely unaware of what organization holds the money and how many fees will be deducted along the way.
  • Lack of transparency - Intermediary banks help move money from one country to the next, but also take a fee out of the payment without letting the sender or receiver know. Global currency markets shift every minute, making it difficult to be aware of how much a payment will cost a patient in their home currency. Credit card companies can add international transaction fees on a patient’s credit card statement without them even knowing. All of these factors make it very difficult for the patient to feel like they know what’s going on with their payment. Hospital staff end up having to answer questions on currency rates and fees that they are not equipped to manage.

Rethinking the patient payment experience

Considering all of these challenges making an international payment, it becomes less attractive for a patient to make the journey to another country for care. To be successful, a hospital first needs to understand these problems, and then take action to address them. In Part 2 of Creating a Patient-Centric Payment Experience for International Patients, we will explore a new approach to international payments that hospitals can use to gain a competitive advantage. We will also share how UCLA Health used this new approach to improve its international patient program, which includes more than 3,000 international patients annually, representing 46 countries and 35 currencies.