Strength in Numbers: Digital Payments are THRIVING in the Covid-19 Era

Caleb Burrill
Caleb Burrill is Digital Marketing Specialist

Strength in Numbers vol.1

Strength in Numbers is Flywire’s ongoing series where we dive into the critical trends influencing healthcare payments today you need to be aware of. Combining our data from 4 of the top 10 providers in the US and 30% of patient households, we recognized that we’re in a unique position to spot relevant shifts in patient affordability, consumerism, and satisfaction earlier and wanted to share them with you so that you can stay on top of the emerging trends that will impact your business the most.

This volume’s topic:

Digital Payments are THRIVING in the Covid-19 Era

Not only has digital shown itself to be a viable way for patients and doctors to stay connected during the pandemic, but health systems that have implemented a strong digital infrastructure are proving to be in a better position to be more resilient, better equipped, and faster to recover than those who haven’t made digital a strategic imperative in 2020 and beyond.

People are flocking to digital

There is one channel that is soaring during the current pandemic: digital.

According to a recent article from McKinsey & Company, data shows that the past 8 weeks have accelerated digital adoption by five years. Digital has won over a host of new users during the current crisis, introducing a wave of potential new customers. Most industries have seen more than a 10 percent growth in their online customer base since the start of the pandemic.

Not only have more people been using digital than ever before, they are staying on their devices longer. The amount of time that consumers spend engaging in digital activities has catapulted by 37%. It’s becoming clearer that companies that shift their focus to embrace digital as the healthiest channel in their pipeline will be in a better position to meet customers where they are and deliver on their needs, as we transition into a new normal that is heavily built on digital experiences.

The pandemic will soon end, but the changes in digital adoption appear to be permanent. 75 percent of consumers trying digital for the first time have expressed that they will continue its use even after the pandemic. Likewise, 29% of total consumers have said they'll increase their use of digital channels post-crisis.

Digital has become a critical component of how people will live their lives moving forward. Most consumers say they plan to continue shopping online even when brick-and-mortar stores reopen. In the US, upwards of 60 percent of consumers who tried a new digital shopping method plan to stay with it post-crisis.

These dramatic shifts in consumer behavior mean that there are more opportunities to build meaningful connections with clients and companies are beginning to augment their strategies to accommodate. According to a recent survey, financial institutions are rapidly awakening to the power of digital transformation and embracing it as the future of their business. These institutions have begun actively scaling to meet these new consumer expectations with “70% indicating they have shifted resources to building customer-facing digital interfaces, 57% investing in new communication technologies, and 48% transforming their go-to-market business models.”

While organizations must center their attention on digital to meet new customer needs, they need to be careful about how they approach outlining their digital strategy. It’s important to note that simply checking the box to have a digital experience or online bill pay is not enough: “...it’s not just about digitizing. Companies must also reimagine customer journeys to reduce friction, accelerate the shift to digital channels, and provide for new safety requirements.”

In the following section, we’ll use proprietary Flywire data to analyze some trends that are happening in healthcare and outline how revenue cycle leaders can take advantage of the new digital world to build a patient financial journey that is centered around affordability, consumerism, and delivering higher levels of patient satisfaction.

Bite Sized Advice

McKinsey & Company recommend four primary areas of focus for companies to ensure that they are best positioning themselves to take advantage of this new era in digital adoption:

  1. Refocusing and accelerating digital investments in response to evolving customer needs
  2. Using new data and AI to improve business operations
  3. Selectively modernizing technology capabilities to boost development velocity
  4. Increasing organizational agility to deliver more quickly

The Growing Power of Digital Channels in Healthcare

In healthcare, digital has proven to be an incredibly strong channel in 2020. Drawing on the data from nearly one-third of US households, representing over $10B in patient responsibility, the above graph shows that there has been significant year-over-year growth in digital adoption and online payments for our healthcare providers. For the average provider, self-service total payment volume has grown by 31% year-over-year.

Perhaps most importantly, digital has been a vital channel for collections recovery during Covid-19 outpacing back office, staff assisted collections. In fact, while staff assisted payments have drastically decreased, online payments have increased during Covid-19 allowing for health systems to recover collections they could potentially have lost out on if they hadn’t properly invested in digital channels prior to the start of the crisis.

Across our provider base, total online payment volume has increased by 9% during Covid-19.The increase in self-service adoption has helped to mitigate some of the more challenging issues related to the pandemic. Increased self-service adoption can lead to eased staff pressure, reductions in call volume, decreases in the amount of cost-to-collect, and faster patient payments.

All of the above benefits have been vital for providers as they navigate the new conditions caused by the coronavirus. In particular, the potential to ease the burden off of remote staff may be the most impactful right now. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, 266 hospitals have furloughed workers since the start of the pandemic. The majority of the rest of staff have been moved to remote roles. Providers have expressed having real issues with finding the right balance of people, process, and technology to continue to deliver on the key organizational objectives they set at the beginning of the year. A focus on increasing self-service adoption for patients could provide the space needed to reset objectives and align remote staff around the high valued goals most critical to the health of the business.

Revenue cycle leaders that don’t prioritize digital channels now can only hope for traditional, back office led payment channels to return to pre-covid levels, something that potentially may never happen. Only 14% of consumers have said they'd return to traditional, brick-and-mortar methods after the current crisis is over. By waiting on creating robust digital experiences for their patients, providers are not only missing out on collections they could have now but may be also ensuring they are inadequately prepared to meet patient needs in 2021 and beyond.

The importance of building a satisfying patient financial journey

The current crisis is accelerating the importance of digital to all of our lives, changing people's habits and spending for good. The stark fact is that those brands that aren't delivering a personalized, tailored and reassuring online experience now will suffer down the line, missing out on the increasing digital spend from a growing customer base. - Jean-Rene Boidron, CEO of Kameleoon

In order to not miss out on the new opportunities created by these shifting trends in digital adoption, attention must be paid to creating a satisfying patient journey. Nearly three-quarters of consumers surveyed have said that the quality of their online experience would influence not only who they purchased from but how much they spent. 42% said they'd either spend less or move away from brands that hadn’t provided a satisfying online experience during the pandemic.

The ease and speed of digital use makes it simple and convenient for consumers to do comparative shopping. In the United States, more than 75 percent of consumers reported trying a new retailer or brand during Covid-19, representing a massive “shock to consumer loyalty”. While providers haven’t experienced the competition that arises once comparative shopping is in place, it is a phenomenon that will soon come to healthcare. With the new CMS rule set to spur greater transparency in the marketplace in 2021, patients will have more choices than ever before in which health systems they choose for their care.

In order to ensure patient loyalty in the new digital era, health leaders need to focus on evolving current revenue cycle processes towards workflows built around patient self-service paired with affordable payment options like payment plans, intelligent discounting, and patient financing. Providing self-service tools that use predictive analytics to measure a patient’s capacity-to-pay and then recommend to them the appropriate affordable solution, gives patients the freedom and autonomy to take ownership of their own financial journey. Historically, these strategies have led to a 43% increase in patient satisfaction for our clients, making patients 5x more likely to recommend them to their friends and family.

The online payment revolutions is here

The consumer effects of the Coronavirus will be long lasting across all verticals. All industries will have to adapt to the new digital normal but, perhaps, none more so than healthcare. In truth, many hospitals had already found themselves behind the times and were confronted with a growing demand from their patients to provide better self-service tools and more affordable options even prior to the onset of Covid-19.

With new consumer trends favoring digital more than ever before, how healthcare systems approach their digital payment strategy could be the most important decision facing their revenue cycle teams in the years to come. While the current pandemic has made the future murkier than ever, patient sentiments are clear: health systems that concentrate on crafting digitally-forward, affordability-driven patient financial journeys will win the day.

Learn more about how Flywire approaches self-service and affordability for patients and the help we can bring you today.

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