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The 3 biggest self-pay mistakes hospitals make

Implementing a self-pay revenue cycle strategy is probably one of the biggest challenges facing hospital financial executives. As healthcare providers are more focused than ever before on increasing revenue, this issue has become that much more important to a successful overall revenue cycle strategy.

Yet, many senior hospital executives are trying to meet this challenge with obsolete tools and the wrong mindset. Here are the three biggest mistakes hospitals make that prevent them from effectively managing their self-pay receivable.

1)    Not viewing the hospital-patient relationship correctly.

Hospitals have been talking about patient-centric care for decades. Hospitals have redesigned lobbies and patient rooms and worked hard at establishing a caring environment for patients and their families. However, most hospital revenue cycle operations still appear to be focused mostly on their Medicare and commercial insurance patients. Hospitals also seem to be providing more financial counseling for patients who are most clearly unable to meet their financial obligation to the hospital. Yet, while hospital financial executives are aware that “consumer driven” healthcare has created a large and growing group of patients with high deductibles and copays, many have been very slow to recognize the challenge they face in terms of the revenue cycle.

After decades of working with patients, we know that patients are very concerned about their financial responsibilities to healthcare providers. This concern needs to be addressed by revenue cycle professionals if the patient-centric culture is going to promoted and advanced by the larger organization. The traditional approach of sending statements, waiting for payments and telephone calls and then, after 180 days, sending the remaining accounts to a collection agency doesn’t work. What’s more, in today’s hyper-connected world, this approach can have an outsized negative effect on a hospital’s brand. Hospitals need to proactively engage their patients with self-pay balances.

2)    Not providing patients with multiple avenues for payment.

In this day and age, it is absolutely essential for hospitals to offer patients multiple avenues for payment.  As a first step, it is critical for a hospital to provide patients with an online payment option and a 24-hour payment by telephone option. In our experience working with hospitals on the East Coast, a very significant portion of a hospital’s patients with self-pay balances want to pay their bills when it’s convenient to them. Hospitals need to deploy the available POS technologies to expedite payment and improve the patient experience. Hospitals need to leave the 1990s behind and provide patients with a 21st Century retail experience.

3)    Not returning patient phone calls.

We appreciate that it’s all about volume and priorities within a hospital billing office. As a result, many hospitals see patient telephone calls as inconveniences. We believe hospitals need to change this attitude and recognize that patient telephone calls are opportunities to reinforce their brand while improving collections. Many hospitals fail to appreciate that not promptly and correctly answering patient telephone calls is poor customer service and damages the brand. Hospitals are spending a fortune on make their buildings look like a hotel, but don’t treat their patients like guests when it comes to the revenue cycle. This attitude jeopardizes the investment. Again, this is an outdated approach to managing revenue cycle and patient expectations.  

A significant positive change in self-pay revenue for a hospital requires that hospital executives re-examine how their hospitals understand their role in this process and the priority they place on providing patients with the opportunity and confidence of meeting their financial obligation to the facility.

Hal Stern is the CEO of Financial Health and blogs regularly at Financial Health News.