More on Operations

Cincinnati Children's Hospital grows collections through 'consumer-friendly' portal

Senior Director of Revenue Cycle Chris Lah will take HIMSS16 attendees through portal, showing how they boosted collections.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Chris Lah, senior director of Revenue Cycle for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, will take his audience through the portal to show how the health system increased patient collections by more than 10 percent, during "Empower Patients with a Consumer-Friendly Portal," at the Revenue Cycle Solutions Summit at HIMSS16.

The session will be held from 10:40 to 11:05 a.m., Monday, Feb. 29.

As patient financial responsibilities continue to increase, providers must both adopt and adapt to new technologies and strategies to help patients meet their obligations, or suffer a potentially calamitous drop-off in collections, according to Lah, who has over 30 years of experience in healthcare operations.

"The trends will only get worse," he said. "High deductible bills are only going to get worse. I'm going to be a bit of a weather man."

Lah's forecast includes creating a consumer-friendly financial engagement portal that enables patients to receive payment estimates, apply for charity care, set up payment plans, schedule appointments and make payments from a desktop or mobile device.

As a result of these initiatives, Cincinnati Children's has: increased patient satisfaction scores by 66 percent; collections by 10 to 15 percent; saved $70,000 per year by replacing phone communications with digital and self-services options; and increased online adoption from 900 to more than 35,000 consumers.

"The portal needs to be more than payments and detail," Lah said. "The portal is a lot about customer experience, trying to push what's the best practice. I think we've got a mindset that incorporates people's ideas, has a customer-centered approach, and matches what customers need and want."

Lah found that consumer complaints about billing were coming in through the ancillary lab, or the emergency room.

"They're calling because there's something unanswered in the bill," he said.

The question is usually about the value received for the cost of the service, or about how to pay for a bill they can't afford.

"If 55 percent of my calls come from the emergency room billing, this is a focus. I need to pay attention to this," Lah said. "They're not going to pay on the phone. If they're calling about the ER, they don't want to see balance forward of $1,633. The portal has got to answer some questions."

The portal must serve both chronic care patients and those who were at the hospital once for say, a broken wrist.

"Cancer patients know the difference between a hospital and professional bill, but want to know why a lab was ordered five times," Lah said. "They would say, I would want a complete bill when I'm discharged from the hospital. It would be like getting two phone books. They really don't mean that."

Like Healthcare Finance on Facebook

They want a single user sign-in with information explaining the bill.

Increasingly, they want it available on mobile phones.

To understand what patients wanted, Lah put about nine families and a physician together in a room for a focus group. Also in the room was the IT vendor who made changes in real time as suggestions were given and accepted.

The focus group was comprised of: a 19-year-old; a couple; a mom who had a child in the cancer program; another who had a child with a broken wrist; and a dad with two children, one a diabetic and another who suffered from seizures.

Lah doesn't stop there. Every time he goes on vacation or takes a trip, he visits both adult and children's hospitals in the area to see how customer service is delivered, including Costa Rica and London, and a remote rural healthcare facility in Fiji.

In all he finds common ground.

"I saw what we weren't doing well," he said, "I saw it mirrored in larger scale facilities."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse