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Want consumers to pay medical bills faster? Deliver a better patient experience

Making patient financial responsibility clear from the get-go is an imperative for providers trying to avoid no-pays and consumer dissatisfaction.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The interaction a consumer has with a healthcare business office matters, not just to them but to a provider's financial health. That's because a negative business interaction makes consumers less likely to uphold their patient financial responsibility in full, finds a new Connance survey.

IMPACT

We know two things: Consumers want a better patient experience and healthcare providers can boost revenue by making it happen, according to a report Black Book published in July. Black Book found that 92 percent of respondents said improving consumer experience should be a top priority for hospitals, medical groups and facilities.

This year's Connance survey explored patient experiences and reactions to billing and financial interactions before and after treatment. It analyzed overall satisfaction differences during the billing process and differences in likelihood to recommend and use multiple facilities. 

It also explored the effect of different engagement strategies, generational differences in the financial experience, and the perception of providers and payers.

In addition to finding that patients are less likely to pay due to negative billing interactions, the survey also revealed that out-of-pocket costs affect which providers they select. More than 50 percent of patients say out-of-pocket costs will have a significant or highly significant influence on their provider choice. 

Making patient financial responsibility clear from the get-go is an imperative for providers trying to avoid no-pays and consumer dissatisfaction. Largely that's due to pre-service engagement still being quite limited. Only 35 percent of patients with payment responsibility noted being called by the business office prior to treatment to receive an estimate, the survey showed.

Interestingly, with more and more aspects of the healthcare system becoming digitized, digital engagement is not always preferred. Patients prefer self-service technology and one-on-one communication over email, text and mailed communications. 

Patients also believe insurance companies over anyone else -- 53 percent of patients believe the insurance company is the most capable and believable for their estimate of balance due.

THE BIGGER TREND

A prior survey, released last year, showed physician practices seem to have the advantage when it comes to billing and payments. For instance, 79 percent of ambulatory organization respondents can generate a cost estimate upon request, while only 69 percent of hospital respondents can do so.

Hospitals, too, are moving toward a better patient experience beginning in the design phase,   and payers are harnessing technology to improve the consumer experience

There are, of course, hiccups along the way. Patient portals, for instance, were once hailed as a way for consumers to not only access their health record but also as an easy way to make payments, are still not widely used -- though experts are beginning to understand what it will take for portals to finally catch on.  

In an age when patients are paying more out-of-pocket costs and shopping around for providers and services, practices and hospitals alike would do well to pay attention to these trends among patients, who now act more like retail consumers, going to where their needs and preferences are met.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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