So you’ve got an online payment portal. Now it’s time to sit back and watch the payments fly in. As soon as that URL went live I bet patients were on their phones, iPads, laptops, and desktops eager to pay their bills. And you are there with a cheeky grin on your face, the hero of the medical office.
If only it could be so easy. You may have been lead to believe that all you had to do was create the portal and patients would flock to it to pay their bills. But, it’s much more complex than that.
Sure, people enjoy the convenience of paying their bills online. Well over 50% of all bills paid by Americans are paid online according to a Fiserv report. But those are most likely bills they must pay or loose services or suffer penalties.
The difference between most online payment portals and medical payment portals is that there are usually no penalties for paying 60, 90, or 120 days late. All it cost the patient is the annoyance of a few reminders from your office. No extra money, no loss of services. No big deal.
In order to get patients to use your slick new online portal, you must give them a reason beyond convenience. They like the convenience, but they still think the same about the doctor bill - he or she can wait. Why would I pay something now when there’s no down side to paying later? The doctor certainly doesn’t need my money.
So how do we get the patient to change? There are several options. You can choose to reward or to punish. I think the reward is best if you can get it to work. If not, then you may have to issue a penalty. Here are some ideas.
- Offer a discount for online payment. Start low with a 2% discount. If that doesn’t get a response, go higher. Just make sure that you stay profitable.
- Offer something free. A free office visit, or treatment, or phone consultation, or something tangible. The idea is to get them to the portal. Once they grow accustomed to it, they will return.
- Make an ‘online heros’ wall poster or notice board. Give patients recognition by congratulating them for signing on to the online portal.
- Add a check or cash processing fee. Add a percentage or fee (whatever your state and local laws allow) for cash or check payments. Start low and increase if you see no results.
- Require new appointments to have an online sign-in identification. Not really a huge penalty but one meant to drive online portal use. To get a new appointment, a patient has to show he or she has used the portal.
- Stop sending paper bills and only send digital bills with a link to the portal. An extreme step that may require investment in new technology. But, one that has a big payoff!
I’ll point out that none of these rewards or penalties should be put in place without an extreme effort to educate and encourage your patients. Failure to make the benefits to them clear and to market them properly will cause them to push back. Some may even leave your practice due to misunderstanding.
The main thing is to know your patient base. Know what their tolerance is for using online payment portals. Know how to sell the benefits of online payments. And give plenty of time with overwhelming communication before beginning.
Getting patients to pay online on-time is a massive benefit to your practice. You will lower collection costs, decrease time on the phone, speed cash flow, and free up resources for other tasks.