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Overcoming barriers to patient financial engagement

It is critical that providers do everything they can to remove the obstacles that frustrate patients from making payments

The retail and travel industries know the value of brand recognition and the importance of delivering an exceptional customer experience, yet healthcare has been a bit slower to get in the game. These other industries are driving consumer expectations for a better healthcare experience that providers must address or risk as much as $64 billion in lost business, according to a report by Price Waterhouse Coopers Health Research Institute.

As the healthcare industry shifts to a more consumer-focused market, providers are spending more time trying to open the channels of communication, educate patients about their conditions and involve them more fully in decisions about their care to encourage better outcomes and lower costs.

Hospitals and health systems rarely explore patient satisfaction beyond point-of-care treatment and clinical conversation, but the patient’s financial encounter is an equally important factor in shaping the overall experience of healthcare. A 2013 survey by TransUnion Healthcare found that patients who have a positive billing experience give higher marks for the quality of care they received than patients whose experience is negative. The last interaction patients will have with a healthcare organization will be around their bill and finances, which has a significant impact on their lasting impression of the care quality, but is too often overlooked in broader patient engagement and satisfaction strategies.

Healthcare is a complex and highly regulated environment. Finding new, innovative ways to manage patient payments often takes a backseat to deadline-driven, cost-intensive initiatives such as digitizing medical records, demonstrating meaningful use and learning new code sets. However, the success of a hospital now depends on patient financial engagement.

Barriers to engagement
As patients assume responsibility for a greater share of their healthcare costs, they expect to have more control over their choices, expectations and experiences. Providers have traditionally thought of finance as a critical business process, not as a factor in a patient-facing strategy. Employees were not hired to deal with patients from a patient financial experience capacity, and technology was adopted to simply scrub claims or enhance previously manual processes.

To effectively compete in the new marketplace, however, providers will need to look beyond their historical uses of technologies and embrace new processes and technologies to help them better engage patients financially and consistently deliver a high level of customer service.

It is critical that providers do everything they can to remove the obstacles that frustrate patients from making payments— such obstacles as lack of clarity, visibility and payment options—if they wish to improve consumer satisfaction and remain financially solvent. 

Clarity and visibility: At the heart of patient financial engagement is clear and direct communication. Patients want and expect to be able to understand their bill if they are expected to pay for services. The statement should be written in plain language instead of industry-specific terms, such as CPT codes, and clearly indicate whether it is a first bill, a reminder or final notice. The statement should include the breakdown of all of their costs in a single statement that tells the consumer how much they paid and to what service it was applied, how much the insurance plan covered, the remaining balance owed and payment options.

Choice: Another way to boost customer satisfaction is to offer patients a variety of ways to manage their payments. Providing patients with the option to pay by cash, check, payment plan, or debit/credit card—in the office, online, over the phone or by mail—accelerates collection and encourages full payment.

Today patients are responsible for nearly one-quarter of their medical bills on average through co-pays and deductibles, making patient payments a top concern for hospitals. In addition, under the new value-based system, hospital payments are directly tied to improving patient satisfaction, both in the delivery and the experience of care. A financial engagement solution can help providers manage patient payments while also enhancing the patient’s overall experience.

In a Connance consumer impact study, nearly 40 percent of patients said their interactions with hospital billing groups influenced whether they would recommend the hospital to a friend, and patients who have a negative billing experience are five times more likely to complain about that experience to another patient. Hospitals leveraging technologies that improve communication, engage patients in their billing and payment process and eliminate unnecessary or redundant paperwork have the competitive advantage through powerful word-of-mouth referrals as well as through social networking platforms.

Realizing ROI
Using automation technology to create an engaging payment experience for patients enables providers to see measurable operational and financial improvements including fewer days in accounts receivable, improved cash collections and reduced past-due accounts. Additionally, analytics provided by automation technology allows for data-driven decisions that continually optimize and maximize patient revenue.

Leveraging automated tools from a single payment platform allows providers to connect all parties—hospitals, outsourced collections services, patient access, financial services, physicians’ offices, DMEs and patients—to have an integrated process for collecting self-pay dollars at every opportunity. Automation enhances staff productivity, allows the practice to grow without having to add employees and frees up staff time to initiate more financial conversations with patients.

Furthermore, by helping patients understand the connection between the charges and services received, fewer patients will experience “sticker shock” with their statement, helping providers proactively manage bad debt. Automated tools further enable them to better manage their journey through the healthcare system, opening the doors to honest financial conversations, pricing transparency and trust.

There is more to patient engagement than traditional clinical benchmarks and outcomes. While healthcare organizations have prioritized these strategies, consumer demand now dictates the need to be creative and explore new areas of better communication. By shifting mindsets to include a patient’s financial encounter as an important factor in shaping the overall experience of healthcare, providers can yield significant benefits such as greater satisfaction, loyalty and accountability for patients and better financial health for providers.

Ultimately, the goal is to meet consumers’ expectations regarding the financial side of their care in the same way they are met on the clinical side. Understanding the connection between patient engagement, satisfaction and patient payments is the key to success.