3 Strategies to Reduce Hospital Billing Complexities

As the saying goes, "time is money." This is especially true for hospitals and their billing departments, which stand to lose money simply from time wasted on administrative burdens associated with bill payments and other revenue cycle features.

A recent survey also showed that only 21 percent of patients engaged with the business office after discharge are completely satisfied with the hospital billing process. Diane Watkins, vice president of revenue cycle at Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo., says Saint Luke's recently partnered with doxo to help manage their billing solutions, simplifying the experience for patients through direct online billing and quicker payment. She adds there are three things a hospital or health system can do to reduce billing complexities immediately, and following these guidelines could lead to savings in time and productivity, as well as improved patient satisfaction.

1. Give patients financial information in advance, when possible.
Patients who are able to be scheduled in advance for procedures — such as hip replacements, orthopedic surgeries or MRI scans — should be provided information on what their out-of-pocket expenses are going to be and what their health insurance benefits are well before the day of their procedure or surgery. "This helps the patients understand the billing process and actually pay those bills," Ms. Watkins says.

At Saint Luke's, Ms. Watkins says her revenue cycle department uses the price estimator software that assists in preparing an estimate and compiles all information into one centralized hub. The software looks at the patient's health insurance, analyzes what the hospital's contractual arrangement is with that payor, verifies the patient's insurance and calculates any deductibles and co-insurance that may be applicable. From there, they will call patients a few days ahead of their procedures to inform them that, based on their insurance, they will owe X amount of dollars based on hospital estimates. "We want them to know when they are scheduled, where to go and that we verified their insurance coverage so [patients] don't have to worry about that," Ms. Watkins says.

2. Clarify and update billing statements. Ms. Watkins says Saint Luke's redesigned its billing statements and financial communications to be more concise and clear in an effort to be "patient friendly." Hospitals should look at their billing statements and other financial correspondence and make sure they are easy to understand, have clear language, contain no errors and are not inundated with unnecessary details. "We simplified [the statement] so it only has the information a person needs," Ms. Watkins says. "Before, it was too much information on the page."

Ms. Watkins adds that using doxo has helped give patients an easy way to understand their payment responsibility. Medical documents are also delivered to the same digital filing cabinet where patients manage bills and statements from other businesses.

3. Provide online account information. It's 2012 — a time when almost everything is digitized and available on the Internet. However, not all hospitals are at the same stage when it comes to their websites, let alone online access.

Saint Luke's was the first hospital in the Kansas City area to provide online account information to its patients several years ago. Ms. Watkins says providing online accessibility and billing to patients should be considered a top priority in hospital revenue cycle departments because online access both modernizes the facility and adds a convenience factor for patients. "That's the advantage [patients] have with doxo: They can look at their hospital bill and insurance explanation of benefits from home," Ms. Watkins says. "They could look at how the documents are related to each other and understand what's going on."

For hospitals unsure of how to begin the process of installing online account capabilities, Ms. Watkins recommends starting with the vendor who helped to install the hospital's patient accounting system, as the two are interconnected.

More Articles on the Hospital Revenue Cycle:

5 Points on Managed Care Contracts

Money Matters: How the Hospital Revenue Cycle Impacts Patient Satisfaction

5 Ways Hospitals Can Improve Point-of-Service Payments

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