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mHealth Messaging Offers Providers Vital Revenue Opportunities

A report from West finds that healthcare providers aren't using mHealth messaging to remind patients about unpaid bills, or to schedule preventive care. That's a huge missed opportunity.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Healthcare providers aren’t using mHealth messaging to remind patients to pay their bills – an important digital health resource that could not only improve the revenue cycle but also boost patient engagement efforts.

A new survey from West finds that only 15 percent of providers are using mHealth messaging – either phone, text or e-mail – to connect with patients to explain their bills, including what parts are covered by insurance.

Yet more than half of all Americans delay paying their medical bills at some point, and more than three-quarters say that decision is impacted by high insurance deductibles.

“The financial impact of value-based payments is becoming more evident,” West executives said in their study. “Collecting payments and reducing bad debt, increasing and retaining revenue and maximizing reimbursements are challenges that define the financial well-being of medical practices, hospitals and other healthcare organizations. By not prioritizing improvements in these areas, healthcare providers are missing out on many of the opportunities that would benefit their organization financially.”

West – whose past studies have targeted the mHealth connections between providers and patients – says three-quarters of patients don’t know how much their healthcare services cost until they receive a bill, making it difficult to plan a timely payment strategy. On top of that, 30 percent are confused by the bills they receive.

READ MORE: mHealth Messages Connect the Dots in Care Management

“Sharing cost information prior to sending out bills makes patients more aware of self-pay responsibilities, improves transparency and helps patients plan for medical expenses,” the report states “Yet less than one-quarter (24 percent) of providers plan to implement a price transparency program within the next 12 months. This data shows there are opportunities for providers to do more to improve transparency and remove payment hurdles.”

Among the strategies suggested for providers are pre-billing messages that outline when a bill will be sent, how much the patient is responsible for paying and what portion is covered by insurance. Another idea involves sending billing alerts and explanations with appointment reminders and follow-up clinical instructions.

According to West, only 41 percent of providers use their appointment reminder platform to prompt patients to pay their bills, and only 19 percent are planning to adopt that platform within the next 18 months.

Considering some 36 percent of patients have difficulties remembering to pay their bills on time, West sees this absence of technology as a wasted opportunity.

“For example, staff can pull a list of patients who have an approaching payment due date and set up an automated payment reminder for anyone on the list whose payment has not processed,” the report pointed out. “These reminder messages let patients know they have an upcoming payment deadline and invite them to make an immediate one-time payment to avoid delinquency. The communications can be designed so that patients can respond immediately by pushing a button on their touch tone phone to make a payment. By making the payment process simple and convenient, providers increase the likelihood that payments will be made.”

READ MORE: Do Doctors, Patients Take mHealth Seriously?

Furthermore, only 31 percent of providers contact patients when they miss a payment, and even less use automated platforms to alert their patients.

The impact of such a strategy can be considerable. According to West, the University of Missouri Health Care system reduced outstanding bills by more than $463,000 a year after instituting an mHealth messaging platform for patients with delinquent accounts, collecting almost $116,000 in the first three months alone.

Apart from not paying their bills on time, the West survey found that patients are burdened by high deductibles and aren’t financially prepared to handle a health emergency, with 37 percent saying they wouldn’t be able to manage an unexpected $100 medical bill without going into debt.

Yet those patients aren’t adhering to preventive care plans that could reduce the risk of those unexpected emergencies. According to West, more than three-quarters of providers say high deductibles “have a very high or high impact on patients’ decisions to get preventive screenings or tests.”

“Patient participation in preventive care generates revenue for providers and is beneficial to patient health,” the report states. “However, Americans currently use routine care at only half the suggested rate, which means that providers are missing out on potential revenue opportunities from preventive care.”

READ MORE: mHealth Games Offer a ‘Fun’ Way to Boost Patient Engagement

“To make preventive care more attractive to patients, providers need to educate them about the actual costs of routine services and screenings,” the report adds. “Sixty-three percent of providers say promoting necessary preventive care services to drive new revenue is at least a high priority, and 17 percent say it is their top priority.”

West cites “numerous opportunities” for healthcare providers to use mHealth messaging to connect with their patients on preventive services. These include reminders for women’s health and men’s health concerns – Scottsdale Medical Imaging boosted its revenues by roughly $250,000 when it launched a messaging service to remind women to schedule mammograms, while Ochsner Health saw a $685,000 boost in revenues through automated reminders to men to book colorectal cancer screenings.

Other opportunities include reminders for childhood vaccinations, population health reminders and surveys and well-child visits and chronic care management. In the latter case, 66 percent of patients surveyed said they’d be willing to pay an extra $10 each month to connect with their care managers in between scheduled office visits.

“The providers who are seeing the most success now, and who will continue to achieve the best financial outcomes in the future, are those who understand how to use their existing resources - like technology-enabled communications - to solve revenue cycle challenges,” the report concludes. “By applying the capabilities of their existing appointment reminder technology to deliver automated messages, providers can increase the revenue they earn from patient payments and reimbursements and thrive financially.”

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