Addressing the rise in healthcare consumerism

Elevating the Financial Experience to Meet Patient Expectations

As patients assume greater responsibility for their healthcare costs, they are becoming more savvy healthcare consumers. Whereas it used to be that people remained committed to the same provider for the long term and wouldn't consider shopping around, today's patients are now starting to compare prices, assess quality performance and seek healthcare organizations that provide top-notch service and a patient-centered experience.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by Porter Research and Navicure, 63 percent of respondents indicate that healthcare consumerism is a factor with their patients, with 69 percent saying their patients are price shopping and 63 percent noting that individuals are becoming more involved in their medical decisions. Patients are also requesting details about their financial obligations, with 58 percent of survey respondents stating patients inquire about payment plans, and 56 percent saying they ask about total treatment costs. Other top questions include asking what balance is due and what payment options are available.

Cultivating a User-Friendly Financial Experience
Having a smooth, accurate and flexible patient financial clearance process is one way organizations can boost patient perceptions of a healthcare facility, drawing people to a group and earning their loyalty and trust. If patients can get a clear sense of how much they owe and have flexibility in how to meet their financial responsibilities, the more satisfied they become. The following are a few straightforward strategies that organizations can employ to foster this patient-centered financial experience.

Provide patient estimates. When healthcare organizations can provide a detailed and reliable estimate of what a patient might owe for treatment at the time of service, it allows the patient to better plan for the expense. It also can give him or her a sense of control in a sometimes complicated situation. Unfortunately, many organizations don't have this capability, missing a key opportunity to support greater transparency and beginning to foster a relationship of trust.

However, by leveraging care cost estimation technology, organizations can strip away some of the confusion surrounding care costs and empower staff to answer patient payment questions with confidence leading to improved patient collection amounts. These estimation solutions are able to construct a thorough approximation from historical remittance data, while verifying patient insurance coverage and checking remaining deductibles and co-insurance amounts. By consistently providing this level of transparency, organizations can improve patient satisfaction, as well as the likelihood of an at time-of-service or on-time payment.

Send electronic statements. Similar to upfront estimates, most healthcare providers do not use electronic patient statements—only 26 percent of survey respondents indicate they have this capability. These statements are more timely, and less costly and time-intensive to create than their paper counterparts, helping individuals more quickly understand what they owe and when payments are due. Moreover, by clicking on a link at the bottom of an electronic statement, patients can go directly to an online payment tool, allowing them to make payments quickly and conveniently.

Make it easy to pay. In today's digital world, people are not only familiar with paying their bills online, they've come to expect it—and healthcare bills should be no different. Organizations that present various payment options, such as web-based portals and credit-card-on-file solutions, make it easier for patients to meet their financial obligations. These tools let individuals make payments faster, securely and at their convenience, 24-hours per day and 365-days-per-year.

Offer payment plans. Not all patients have the ability pay their balances in full at the designated time. To help these individuals meet their responsibilities, while acknowledging and respecting their financial situations, organizations should consider offering structured payment plans. Some organizations may hesitate to pursue this option because manually administering these kinds of plans can be onerous. Staff have to spend time following up with patients and collecting payments—not to mention the expense involved in sending statements every month. However, a credit-card-on-file solution can streamline the payment plan process. Billing staff and the patient can work together determine the payment amounts and frequency, and set up the payment plan so that the patient's credit card is automatically charged for the appropriate amount at the appropriate time.

Make it a part of a comprehensive approach
As consumerism continues to play an ever increasing and significant role in today's healthcare organizations, it is essential that they increase their commitment to delivering a patient-focused financial experience. By leveraging patient financial and payer-payment data, automating the patient financial clearance process and weaving patient revenues into a total revenue cycle management philosophy that optimizes both patient billing and payer payments, organizations can foster greater patient satisfaction and loyalty while speeding up cash flow and increasing revenue.

About the Author
Ken Bradley is vice president of strategic planning and compliance of Navicure, a provider of cloud-based claims management, patient payment and healthcare data analytic solutions. Follow Ken Bradley on Twitter at @Ken_Bradley.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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