The continued consumerization of healthcare payments

Photo: John Welch

John Welch, chief product officer at Sphere (HIMSS23 Booth 3757), a financial technology vendor used by some of the nation’s largest health systems, says a big trend provider organizations must pay heed to is how patients wish to pay for healthcare in the same manner they pay for all kinds of goods today.

Healthcare IT News sat down with Welch to discuss his views on healthcare payments and get his financial technology predictions as health IT leaders from across the globe gather in the exhibit hall at HIMSS23.

Q. What is the most pressing issue or trend facing healthcare information technology at this moment as the industry gathers for HIMSS23?

A. There are a number of trends emerging in the healthcare information technology space for which healthcare leaders need to be aware.

The area I spend most of my time, the continued consumerization of healthcare payments, where patients expect to be able to pay for their healthcare services the same way they would complete any other transaction, is an area that has seen a lot of changes and attention lately.

Historically in the healthcare space, these payment methods were limited to checks and payment cards. But with the rise of digital wallets (for example, Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal) and alternative payment methods, this landscape is quickly changing.

Accepting the patient’s preferred payment method at the point of interaction (whether that is in person, online or over the phone) reduces friction during the payment process for both the patient and the provider, making it more likely that providers will collect payment quickly, while also improving the customer experience.

An additional trend is the tokenization of payment data, enabling healthcare providers to store patient payment information at the time of purchase and (with patient authorization) use the same payment data to collect subsequent payments without requiring the card data to be provided again.

Tokenization is a powerful tool which, when combined with an account updater service, helps streamline the workflow at the point of purchase and enables healthcare providers to collect payment from patients at a later time.

Further, tokenized payment data can be used to set up recurring payments, such as installments, which can help patients spread out-of-pocket costs over multiple payments, making it easier to pay larger bills over time and helping ensure providers get paid.

Q. What is the primary message your company is trying to get through to the healthcare provider organization health IT leaders on the exhibit floor at HIMSS23?

A. The payments and healthcare industries are evolving, with patients expecting similar payment experiences from their healthcare providers as they get elsewhere in their day-to-day lives.

The unique thing about healthcare payments is the balance owed often isn’t confirmed until weeks after service is delivered, so embedding opportunities to pay at multiple patient touchpoints while providing the context needed to understand the payment is critical.

Healthcare providers looking to provide a modern payment acceptance need to look at their engagement tools pre-visit, during and post-visit to provide a consistent patient financial experience across the patient journey.

Q. What should CIOs, CMIOs, CISOs and other health IT leaders at provider organizations keep their eyes on in the year ahead?

A. Aside from the aforementioned trends on the topics of next-generation payments, tokenization and recurring payments, healthcare IT leaders should keep their eyes on opportunities to automate manual tasks while simplifying the patient engagement process.

Comprehensive reporting, for instance, can be exported out of payment processing systems in batches to aid with simplified reporting and reconciliation, while next-generation payment providers are going a step further by enabling healthcare providers to query transaction-level details in real time using application programming interfaces.

Additionally, security and compliance officers should be on the lookout for products and services to help them mitigate risk to their business, such as opportunities to outsource the capture and storage of sensitive card data to specialist partners, which may help decrease the impact of PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards) on their organization.

Further, there are a number of upcoming mandates from the card schemes (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.) likely to impact security standards and transaction requirements. Working with a payments organization specializing in the healthcare space can enable healthcare providers to stay one step ahead of these industry changes and ensure they remain compliant.

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Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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