In a previous article, we explained how legacy healthcare payment processes have hampered the patient financial engagement process. In this article, we aim to show how those providers can best treat these financial conditions.
Patients are taking on a larger portion of responsibility for their health services, mainly through higher-deductible plans and out-of-pocket costs. When they struggle to meet these financial obligations after receiving care, healthcare providers also feel the pain.
According to Kaiser Health, medical debt is the largest reason why patients hear from collection agencies. Most of that debt remains unpaid, even after providers refer patient debt to collectors. What can providers do to ensure swifter resolution of patient financial responsibilities?
It starts with more effective communication with patients. From the moment a patient enters the system – whether through the scheduling department or the front door – all contacts should share information about how patient financial obligations can be fulfilled.
When it comes to patient responsibility, there are two attributes that come into play: the estimated cost of service and the patient’s ability to pay.
Patients want to know how much things may cost before receiving services. In fact, The Seventh Annual Trends in Healthcare Payments Report noted that 92 percent of patients want to know their financial obligations before a provider visit.
The second attribute, a patient’s ability to pay, requires a flexible toolkit of payment options and channels.
Whether it’s a co-payment for an office visit or the balance after insurance covers a more complex procedure, providers should strive to discuss payments options. This is so they’re able to match the financial obligation with the right payment choice. This can be from a digital wallet to payment plans and financial assistance applications.
This two-step process becomes part of a unified, simpler billing and communication system. Ideally, patients receive all their messages from a single provider.
“Historically, patients waited to learn the amount due after receiving a myriad of billing statements from their healthcare provider and notices from their insurance company,” notes Jana Franks, senior vice president of healthcare payment services at U.S. Bank. “Healthcare consumerism has changed all of that and patient’s expectations have changed too. Armed with more information on their care, and the accompanying financial responsibility, results in a better overall experience for both stakeholders in this equation.”
Few patients wish to parse through multiple bills from different providers, especially if they pile up in their mailbox. This can lead to reduced patient satisfaction and feedback, which in turn can mean lost business for providers. Patients are happier when billing is accurate, simplified and streamlined.
Simplifying the billing process requires both technological and philosophical changes. It requires a full-scale analysis of how patients are billed – whether by mail, text message and/or an interactive portal – and how often patient responsibilities are communicated.
One solution for simplifying the process involves using a card-on-file system or digital wallet to automatically collect patient payments for future expenses. “Patients could have a credit, debit or HSA card on file and set monthly maximums to pay their statements. E-check options should also be made available for those with a preference to pay directly from their checking or savings account(s),” says Franks.
Regardless of the payment method or channel, reducing billing complexity and adding payment choices and channels greatly contributes to patient satisfaction. When patients receive multiple bills from various providers, they may need to ignore or delay payments while sorting everything out. Consolidating payments in one place – either through a provider portal or an insurance plan portal – improves the likelihood of getting paid faster.
Every aspect of the patient experience contributes to overall satisfaction. Even if patients have a positive experience from the care itself, they may lose confidence in their providers if the billing process is inaccurate, confusing or disjointed. The InstaMed Trends in Healthcare Payments Eighth Annual Report found that “65 percent of consumers would consider switching healthcare providers for a better healthcare payments experience.”
When modeling a consolidated patient communication strategy, consider these key goals:
For more information on improving your patient billing and engagement practices, read this white paper from the U.S. Bank payments team.