Making Hospital Bills Simpler at El Camino: Improving Patient Experience Through Online Billing

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Situated in Silicon Valley, El Camino Hospital operates in the midst of a computer-savvy community. Considering their tech-minded patients, the Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit hospital decided last year it was time to transition to a more advanced patient billing system, says Robin Chow, customer service coordinator at El Camino.

el camino"We wanted our patients to be able to view their statements online and pay their bills when we are not available," she says. "They are able to do just that with the Simplee platform."

Many Americans want online access to pay medical bills and interact with health providers, according to a 2011 survey conducted by Intuit, an accounting and financial software company. The survey found 73 percent of Americans would use a secure online system to pay medical bills, schedule appointments, get lab results and communicate with their physician's office. Furthermore, almost half of those surveyed said they would consider switching healthcare providers if the new practice offered an online system with those capabilities.

In order to give patients online access to their bills and insurance information, El Camino began implementing Simplee systems. In October 2012, the hospital began encouraging its patients to use Simplee's "medical wallet," an online dashboard that lets people manage and pay all of their medical bills in one place. In January 2013, El Camino began using SimpleePAY — a cloud-based patient payment platform for large medical providers.

In the months since its implementation, the new system has proven beneficial for patients and the hospital alike, says Judi Ashline, El Camino's director of patient financial services.

 "It’s good for our patients," she says. "It brings clarity to something that's very confusing."

How Simplee works
SimpleePAY allows El Camino to send bills to their patients electronically and collect payments through hospital staff or patient self-service. Patients receive an email letting them know they have a bill from El Camino. They can click a link in the email alert that takes them to the SimpleePAY online platform, and from there they can pay their bill. The system doesn't require the patients to create an account to access it.

In order to streamline healthcare finance management for patients, El Camino patients also have the option of signing up for Simplee's medical wallet product to manage more than just their El Camino bills. The medical wallet dashboard aggregates data from various sources in one place. Patients can view their medical expenses, explanation of benefits and more based on information pulled in from all of their healthcare accounts and records. El Camino started offering the service from Simplee — a privately held company based in Palo Alto, Calif. — to help patients understand their benefits better and manage all of their accounts through one portal.

Although El Camino had another online billing system before Simplee, Ms. Ashline says the medical wallet dashboard is more robust and holds more appeal for patients. "The difference from the online bill system we were using is Simplee follows the patient," she says. "It doesn't follow the facility. It pulls in any provider of care and gives them an easy way to view their bills and what their insurance has paid."

Patients can create a medical wallet account by providing their email address and creating a password. After that, they can link their health, dental, drug or vision plans and related spending accounts to Simplee using the login information for those accounts. Paying healthcare bills involves selecting a claim, clicking the "Make a Payment" button and entering debit card or credit card information. Patients can also pay using health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts.

Patient reactions
In the first six months of using the platform, El Camino saw the portion of its patients paying bills online rise from 2 percent to 33 percent, according to case study information released by Simplee. Additionally, 80 percent of those patients paid within one day of receiving an email alert about their bills, and email billing use went from 2 percent to 20 percent. The hospital — which has a campus in Los Gatos, Calif., as well as in Mountain View — sees about 139,000 patients each year, according to Ms. Ashline.

Ms. Ashline says the hospital has seen a steady increase in online patient billing system use through SimpleePAY over the past eight months. The new system results in much quicker payments than the hospital's previous approach, which involved sending out snail mail statements, she says.

"For those who intend to pay, they pay immediately, and things don't get lost, so we don't have to send multiple statements," she says.  "What we've seen is a steady increase in payments to the facility directly and obviously sooner."

Ms. Chow says the hospital has received very positive feedback from patients concerning the new medical wallet and online payment platform. The increased convenience seems to contribute significantly to patient satisfaction, she says.

"They're excited about being able to view their statement online," she says.

The number of patients calling the hospital with questions about how to pay their bills has decreased, Ms. Chow says. "They would contact us for questions that were really quite simple to answer if they had just a little bit more information," she says. "That's what Simplee has been able to provide for them."

In terms of online security, Ms. Ashline says patients haven't expressed any concerns. Before accessing their information through the online billing platform, they have to validate their identity by providing their date of birth, Social Security number or other personal information.

 "They do feel pretty secure," she says. "We had our compliance officer take a good look at the security of our data. We're very careful, and we take it very seriously. If anything, we tend to be too cautious."

Hospital benefits
Patients aren't the only ones whose lives were made easier by the switch to a more advanced billing system. In the first six months following SimpleePAY's launch, hospital staff spent 40 percent less time managing payments and collections.

"It has helped our efficiency," Ms. Chow says. "We're actually able to spend more time with our patients who need a better understanding of not just their bill from El Camino but of the insurance billing process as a whole."

Additionally, customer service representatives now have more time to help with other tasks such as insurance follow-up, which involves placing calls to health insurers to clarify why they didn't pay for a claim, she says.

Conclusion
For other hospitals that want to transition to a similar system, Ms. Ashline says marketing is crucial. Heavy internal marketing involving staff training helps, she says. El Camino spread the word about the new system on its website and billing statements. Additionally, all employees from patient registration ask people if they want to provide their email address so they can receive bills electronically.

Overall, the new, more comprehensive system makes the experience of paying for healthcare much better for patients and hospital staff alike.

"It's a very simple solution to our patient billing," Ms. Chow says.

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