Medical Practice Bills Still Confusing To Patients, Which May Undercut Collections

Here’s some news that isn’t news, really: patients aren’t thrilled with how medical billing works. They want clear billing statements which don’t come laden with scary surprises, but their wishes are seldom granted, according to a recent survey by payments network InstaMed.

According to the survey, which profiles trends in healthcare payments during 2018, 70% of consumers reported being confused by medical bills, and 93% were surprised by a medical bill during 2018. InstaMed also found that 56% of consumer respondents wouldn’t be able to pay a $1,000+ medical bill, which should raise some red flags given that 69% of providers saw an increase in patient financial responsibility in 2018 compared to 2017.

Unfortunately, many providers are ill-equipped to address these issues, if the survey is any indication. Many seem to be stuck in the pre-digital age, with 90% reporting that they use paper and manual processes for collections efforts. In a possibly related development, 77% of providers said that it takes more than a month for them to collect any payment at all.

By the way, despite having deep pockets and large IT departments, payers don’t seem to be doing any better at going digital with key consumer transactions. While 72% of consumers told InstaMed that they want electronic statements for health plan premium bills, 42% of them said that such statements weren’t available from their insurer.

These stats dovetail with research published late last year by patient payments platform vendor Cedar, which found that many healthcare organizations still haven’t optimized the patient billing and collections process. Among other problems, the survey found that 65% of organizations averaged more than 60 days to collect patient payments, and that 40% waited more than 90 days to collect.

The truth is, despite automation efforts extending back decades, providers and payers still seem to be having a hard time going digital. In fact, providers — especially small medical practices — seem to be having a hard time with the entire revenue cycle management process.

In fact, another survey concluded that outsourced medical billing industry is set to grow 12% this year as independent medical practices increasingly turn this function over to outside providers, and that 28% of physicians and practitioners who don’t currently outsource plan to do so over the next few years.

If these outside platforms and outsourced RCM services can produce more usable – and collectible – patient bills, good on ‘em. Eventually, though, it might be wise if such practices figure out how to create a patient-friendly bill in a format patients like and understand. Their financial health will probably depend on it.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.