COVID-19 Is Ushering in a Consumer Revolution in Healthcare

The following is a guest article by Terry Rowinski, President & CEO of Health Payment Systems, Inc.

We’re now several months into navigating our next normal. We’ve collectively journeyed from shelter-in-place, to cautious reopening, to varying levels of comfort with (and adherence to) public health practices designed to keep us safe while we figure out what’s next. The healthcare system, meanwhile, has endured these changes while serving on the frontlines of battling the pandemic. 

So, what have we learned?

Nothing points out areas for improvement like an international crisis. Healthcare has been woefully behind other industries in providing its consumers a positive digital experience, a discrepancy exacerbated by the almost overnight need to implement social distancing measures. 

Additionally, movements to dismantle the way the healthcare system works in the United States have gained more traction as the number of cases topped 7 million, resulting in more than 200,000 deaths. 

While the future remains unpredictable, the COVID-19 pandemic will undoubtedly result in several changes in the way we provide healthcare—ultimately bringing about a consumer revolution. 

A strong, digital consumer experience must be the standard

Consumer-facing organizations across industries quickly changed the way they do business to encourage social distancing while making the experience easy for customers. Foodservice, for example, quickly adopted technology to allow for mobile ordering in restaurants, QR code menus and contactless payment and delivery.

Consumers expect their healthcare experience to be just as seamless. It’s ironic that casual dining restaurants seem to be more technologically equipped to provide a safe consumer experience than healthcare providers. 

Consumers may not always realize the strict privacy and security measures that providers must meet to protect patients (more on cybersecurity below), but when healthcare providers are able to provide that positive user experience and make patients feel safe, it could make all the difference in encouraging more patients to seek and accept treatment. 

Cybersecurity is a top priority

Part of the reason healthcare has been slow to digitize is because of reasonable concerns about patient privacy. While some in the industry have been beating the drum for digitization for years, the rapid and unplanned shift to moving some patient care onto digital platforms has naturally exposed weaknesses in how well these platforms handle cybersecurity. 

Telehealth is one of the biggest threats to healthcare cybersecurity. The quick transition made telehealth platforms ripe for cybercriminal attacks, in part because of systems not vetting their vendors, as well as the lack of security on patient home Wi-Fi networks. 

For healthcare providers to continue rolling out digital services like telehealth, they will need to actively vet new technology and enforce security protocols. Providers will need to increase their IT capabilities to be able to carry out these tasks and protect both patient health and patient data. 

Consumer advocacy will play a more important role

People all over the globe were quick to show up for healthcare workers, demonstrating an outpouring of support for frontline workers who put themselves at risk to keep us safe. 

At the same time, the problems that have existed in the way the healthcare system is structured has remained a hot topic as people are more conscious of their health than ever. 

Consumers are unhappy with the current structure of the healthcare system partly because they don’t see the value. Despite changes in the past decade, healthcare is still largely tied to employment status. This makes it seem especially cruel to lose employment and healthcare because of an economic recession caused by a global health crisis. 

No one entity within the healthcare system can upend the status quo, but we can all do our part to ensure that patients feel that we’re on their side. Building a strong consumer advocacy program will be key in helping people understand the value of healthcare and its role in their lives. 

Managing costs should be easy

One of the top complaints about the healthcare system is the rising burden of costs placed on the consumer and at times, their employers. While no single arm of the system can revolutionize healthcare on its own, everyone can seek better ways to make managing healthcare costs easier on consumers. 

Before we’d ever heard of COVID-19, a majority of insured adults who had a recent major medical bill reported higher-than-expected charges, confusing statements and/or “surprise” bills. During a recession, frustrating billing practices will increase dissatisfaction with the current health insurance model and, subsequently, the provider. 

One way to help consumers manage their healthcare costs is to simplify billing and payments. Options for healthcare providers seeking to simplify medical billing include:

  • Consolidating all of an individual’s or a family’s explanations of benefits (EOBs) and medical bills for an entire month into one simple statement
  • Offering bundled payments for common procedures
  • Enabling common retail functionality like text-to-pay, mobile wallet use and the like
  • Providing flexible payment plans 

While we still don’t know when the pandemic will end or the consequences that remain to be seen, we now have a few months of experience adapting to our next normal. By remaining agile and open to experiencing and creating new solutions, we can take what we’ve learned so far to build a better healthcare system. 

About Terry Rowinski

Terry Rowinski is the President & CEO of Health Payment Systems, Inc. in Milwaukee, WI. HPS aims to simplify and reduce costs in healthcare for consumers through their services and technology solutions. Connect with Terry on LinkedIn.