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Patients say they would pay more quickly with online access

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
amednews

A survey finds that e-mail and Web-based payment would ease confusion about medical statements.

By PAMELA LEWIS DOLAN, amednews staff. Posted March 22, 2011.

Patients suggest that if physicians want to improve their collections, they should provide online access.

An Intuit Health survey found that patients often are late in paying not because they don't have the money, but because they are confused about their bills. The survey said e-mailing questions and paying online would correct the delay quickly. This would reduce the administrative costs physicians run up by sending multiple mailings to collect one bill, said Warwick Charlton, MD, vice president and chief medical officer for Intuit Health.

"Even though there's anxiety about the total costs that they face in health care, the availability of online payment as an option is something that many of them would use," Dr. Charlton said. "And I think that's because it helps their sense of control and visibility and probably ties more directly back to the event" they are paying for.

70% concerned about bills

The Intuit Health Second Annual Health Care Check-up Survey of 1,000 American adults found that 70% of patients are concerned about managing their health care bills, and two-thirds believe their health care costs will increase. At the same time, 73% said they would use a secure online communication tool that would make it easier to get lab results, request appointments, pay medical bills and communicate with their doctor's office.

Forty-five percent of the patients wait more than a month to pay their doctor bills, and half still send paper checks.

Part of the problem is that people are confused about their medical bills. For example, one in five patients was unsure whether to pay a physician or insurance company.

Sixty-six percent of baby boomers said their costs already increased, and 72% expressed concern about rising costs, compared with 59% of people born after 1965.

When compared with younger adults, baby boomers are less demanding of online access. However, a large number of baby boomers are still interested in having e-mail communication with their physicians, Dr. Charlton said.

Because people of all ages take care of most other financial transactions online -- banking, travel, retail shopping -- the ability to take care of their medical transactions online is moving from a request to a demand, the survey found.

Almost half the survey respondents said they would consider switching to a practice that offered the ability to perform health care tasks online.

Offering this function and online scheduling could be important first steps toward a comprehensive online communication tool.

"The online dialogue will be started," Dr. Charlton said. Then "it won't seem so foreign and strange" to add other Web-based functions such as lab results and personal health record access, he said.

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