October 6, 2017 Owen Carey

Survey: Group Practices Need to Offer More Digital Payment Solutions

An overwhelming majority of group practices (77 percent) still send paper bills despite a majority of patients’ preference for electronic billing (52 percent), according to a recent survey from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) and Navicure.

MGMA announced findings from its Digital Payment Progress Report, which is completed in partnership with Navicure, a provider of integrated cloud-based medical claims management solutions. MGMA and Navicure fielded the national survey among MGMA member organizations in May 2017 to understand billing and payment preferences and behaviors among providers. MGMA provider survey respondents include practice administrators/office managers (61 percent) and C-level executives (28 percent). Additionally, 63 percent of respondents have had responsibility for revenue management operations and/or results for more than 10 years.

The research revealed advantages for physician-owned versus hospital-owned practices, and an analysis that group practices are more advanced than hospitals in offering advanced electronic payment solutions that patients want to use.

A key finding of the Digital Payment Progress Report was the fact that 77 percent of MGMA members still send paper bills despite a majority of patients’ preference for electronic billing (52 percent). The survey also presented evidence that keeping a credit card on file (CCOF) to pay small balances less than $200 can be beneficial in alleviating several revenue cycle challenges for practices, such as reducing patient bad debt/write off (36 percent), days in patient A/R (34 percent) and cost of collections (34 percent).

What’s more, MGMA members also believe that automated payment plans can reduce cost of collections (30 percent), days in patient A/R (34 percent) and patient bad debt/write off (37 percent).  Also, 22 percent of respondents believe online bill pay is an effective way to reduce the cost of patient collections.

Twenty-seven percent of MGMA members offer online bill payment via their portal or website and 22 percent can offer a payment plan or automatically charge a patient’s account each month via credit card on file (CCOF). Seventy-eight percent of patients, according to MGMA’s Patient Payment Check-up Survey, would provide their credit card on file to be charged one time up to $200, and yet only about a quarter (28 percent) of MGMA members are keeping credit cards on file.

“A comparison of our recent studies indicates a strong need for digital payment options to improve patient collections processes and increase patient satisfaction,” Phil Dolan, chief marketing officer of Navicure, said in a statement. “The organizations that can fully embrace digital payment options, such as credit card on file, automated payment plans and patient cost estimation, stand to benefit the most as healthcare consumerism continues to impact the industry.”

The survey results also reveal several current billing and payment advantages in physician practices versus hospitals, such as, more ambulatory organizations can provide a cost estimate than hospitals.

A majority of ambulatory organization respondents (79 percent) can generate a cost estimate upon request. What’s more, 77 percent of ambulatory organizations can do so before the time of service, 19 percent can do so while the patients are still in the office and 5 percent can do so after patients leave the office, but before the bill is sent. Among those who aren’t currently able to provide patient estimates, 36 percent plan to do so within the next year.

In comparison, only 69 percent of hospital respondents can complete this task. With more than half (56 percent) of patients planning to request a cost estimate in the future, this reveals a competitive advantage for physician practices to better respond to patient billing preferences, the survey report notes. Hospitals have the same opportunity to yield high patient satisfaction by using the same solutions used by practices.

The survey also found that more group practices than hospitals believe patients are comfortable providing their contact information. Sixty-four percent of group practice respondents reported patients are comfortable sharing their email address, while only 56 percent of hospital respondents think patients feel this way. In actuality, 79 percent of patients report feeling comfortable providing their email address. The survey notes that this represents an opportunity to leverage email addresses to deliver bills electronically, saving the industry millions of dollars in cost, environmental waste and days in A/R.

The survey results also indicate that patients are more likely to pay their physician practice bill faster. More than a quarter of hospital respondents (26 percent) report it takes patients longer than six months to pay their balance in full, while only 13 percent of practice respondents report it takes this long, perhaps as a result of the frequently lower cost of services at group practices.

“Our analysis finds group practices are more advanced than hospitals in offering advanced electronic payment solutions that patients want to use,” Mariann Lowery, qualitative analyst at MGMA, said in a statement. “However, provider organizations in general still track far behind patient preferences. Patients are used to allowing other service providers to use their email address and credit card number to receive and pay their bills. Just look at the explosion of e-commerce. Healthcare organizations of any size have the opportunity to be just as safe and convenient, and provide a better patient experience.”

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