Seeking medical care can be a difficult and expensive experience, especially for those who need to cross borders to get treatment. David Herrick, Flywire’s general manager for health care, sat down with Karen Webster to discuss the burgeoning cross-border health care payments market and how hospitals can make a painful process less so for the global citizens who need it.
Thanks to the internet and low-cost air travel, patients from around the world refuse to let borders stand in the way of getting the best possible medical care for a variety of maladies. Patients today go abroad to gain access to more affordable procedures, specialized medical treatments and even, for some, shorter wait times. And hospital and clinics eagerly await their arrival since they are guaranteed immediate payment for services – payments may go cross-border but insurance plans usually don’t.
As a result, the global market for international patient care has reached $40 billion and is expected to grow at a rate of 15 to 20 percent each year.
Though this emerging “medical tourism” landscape can bring many benefits to both the patients seeking care and the hospital organizations looking to make services available, international health care payments can be challenging.
To keep up with the growing demand from hospitals looking to welcome and serve international patients, Flywire announced today the expansion of its health care client roster to help address an increasingly competitive and fast-moving medical tourism market.
David Herrick, General Manager of Flywire for Healthcare, explained that for self-pay patients, who pay for their health care outside of their home country entirely by themselves, ensuring that medical bills are paid correctly and on time can be difficult and stressful.
As with the cross-border tuition market, which Flywire has served since 2009, international health care payments can be difficult to manage. Patients suffer from high and confusing exchange fees, uncertainties about whether the amount that they send is what is received by the institution after exchange rates and service fees are applied, and simply figuring out the best way to initiate payments.
For institutions, matching payments to the right patients and procedures often becomes a manual process.
“Hospitals and the health care businesses are going through such enormous changes that they’re looking at various ways they can do better and provide better service,” Herrick said, remarking that international patient care is one of those areas that all are placing an increased emphasis on. “But I’m not sure they necessarily thought about the payment piece needed to support that as much.”
Herrick noted that in conversations about payments, health care organizations tend to have an “aha” moment once they realize how much friction there is in the current processes for both health care providers and international patients.
The Market For Cross-Border Health Care Self-Pay
Although patients can come from anywhere and go anywhere, Herrick said that in many cases, patients choose the U.S. for acute, serious care, making the decision based on factors such as cost of care, the variety of procedures offered and location.
International self-pay patients are coveted by many hospitals since they pay their own way – and hospitals get the benefit of the funds immediately, Herrick explained. As a result, organizations are building out their international patient programs and looking to attract patients with services that improve the patient experience.
“Health care is stressful no matter what, so taking some of the stress and complexity out of the payment piece is actually a good thing, because then they can really focus on the care at hand and getting better,” Herrick said, adding that “the payment piece” is a huge part of the self-pay patient experience.
Getting Hospitals On Board
The challenge in serving these international self-pay patients is having a process that can facilitate the billing and sending of invoices to them – cross border – and how that might need to change in order to accommodate the growing demand.
A big change is billing. Payment in full, based on an estimate of services, is required up front, before a patient arrives. Though some health care providers are more advanced in producing these estimates than others, Herrick said that many have databases that determine the specific costs involved with a procedure, and can add additional costs to cover possible unknowns.
The challenge then becomes both billing – based on an estimate – and receiving and reconciling funds from patients before they arrive.
Herrick discussed a recent story of an Australian family that was seeking care for a child at a prestigious U.S. hospital and needed to send the payment to the hospital as quickly as possible. The hospital provided the family with an estimated cost and Flywire walked the family through the process to ensure that the payment arrived at the hospital before they did.
“It’s one element of a really stressful, scary time that can be taken and put aside,” Herrick said, “and then you can really focus on getting better yourself or getting your family member better.”
As international medical travel becomes more common and more funds are processed between patients and health care providers across borders, keeping payments both convenient and cost-efficient is key.
Herrick described the Flywire for Healthcare platform as being a “strong selling point” for hospitals as they navigate the complex world of global payments while also trying to deliver on enhanced patient experience.