Six years ago, when I began working in healthcare technology services, I remember some pointed advice I received from a veteran of the healthcare technology space. He knew that I had most recently worked at American Express. “Good luck”, he commented, “Forget what you know about the latest in debit, credit or mobile payments, you need to know that most doctors still run their practices like it’s a Travelers Cheques world.”
Ironically, he had no idea that that was the very instrument I knew best from my twelve years at American Express. In fact, I was part of the team in 2001 that began the process of not only changing the form factor from paper cheques to plastic cards, but also of expanding distribution to more convenient and more savvy merchandisers like grocery chains, convenience stores, shopping malls, and post offices. At that time and with this product, American Express had hit its mark in the fickle consumer financial services space. Better yet, growth accelerated as the business buyer embraced the product for innovative rewards- stored value cards turned out to be a fantastic way to do spot recognition, employee rewards and consumer promotions.
At this moment, the healthcare technology services world is entering a similar revolution. Cloud-computing SaaS platforms are now supporting a full range of market segments including ambulatory practice management services, and acute clinical inpatient deployments. Innovation is everywhere: digital check-in services and online scheduling, iPad-native medical record services, and payment start-ups facilitating mobile, online with real-time patient financing transactions and wellness incentive solutions now combining with HSAs. Truly, it is a time of massive disruption in digital and mobile healthcare.
But in America’s emerging world of healthcare, where the provider and consumer bear more financial and clinical risk and the mostly benign, paternalistic model of employer and payer has begun to recede, navigating medical payments with a mindset for new consumer behavior is critical. If healthcare providers want to move up the patient’s priority stack and not have their “outstanding balance due” bills paid last, they are going to need to think about patient access and patient loyalty in a wholly different way. A revolutionary way. It is healthcare’s “Travelers Cheque” challenge.