Can we ever move towards patient friendly medical billing?

Medicine has advanced tremendously in the last 50 years. I mean we've come up with antibiotics and image scanning and angioplasty, so why is it we haven't been able to come up with a bill that doesn't royally confuse the patients?

If patients are going to be billed high prices for medical procedures, they had better well be able to understand everything they are being billed for!

After many focus groups revealed patient frustration with their medical bills, the Patient Friendly Billing project was born.

Today's Consumers Demand More
The costs of healthcare are rising, and it's the consumers' savings account that's taking the biggest hit. Today's consumers expect to wholly participate in their medical care and demand pricing transparency and documentation that is understandable.

The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) began the Patient Friendly Billing project to promote clear, concise, and correct patient-friendly financial communications.

The project is founded on the following tenets:
• When designing administrative processes and communications, the needs of patients and their families should be the primary focus.
• It should be the responsibility of providers and insurers to coordinate the gathering of patient information in an efficient and private way, and without any unnecessary duplication.
• If at all possible, communication regarding financial matters should not happen during the medical visit.
• The language and format of communications should be understandable to the average reader.
• Better practices should be a goal of all providers and should incorporate patient feedback.
• Billing statements should be easy to understand, accurate, provide comprehensive details, and designed so the information is logical to read.

How Doctors Can Help the Industry Move Toward Patient Friendly Billing
At this point you may be thinking you'd (theoretically) like to help payments and billing be friendlier for your patients but are concerned that it will require a lot of work up front. Actually, the process can be relatively easy and lead to a mutually beneficial solution for everyone involved.

Think of it this way: when you make it easy for your patients to A) understand their bill and B) make it easier for them to pay, it makes it more likely they WILL pay.

Here are some ways your practice can move toward more patient-friendly payments:

Establish Consistent Standards of Service
The Patient Friendly Billing Project has been recommending that healthcare providers develop and implement consistent service standards in terms of administrative communication with patients. Typically, medical billing companies are able to provide standard services throughout your practice (including branches).

Imagine how much revenue will be gained if your staff knows exactly what to say to patients about setting their bills at point of service. When your front desk staff knows how to address common patient objections – like suggesting an installment plan for paying off a large bill the patient can't pay off at that time – your practice has the ability to earn more.

Make Paying You Easy
Do you give your patients options when it comes to payments? It's very antiquated to only accept cash and checks at checkout. With so many consumers comfortable with paying bills online and shopping online, why are so few providers offering electronic payment options? Think about doing so.

Patients nowadays want to be able to pay with credit and debit cards at point of service as well as being able to do it later through an online portal. If you want to get paid, and who doesn't, give your patients an easy and direct path. A lot of medical billing companies provide a patient portal as well for easier access.

Educate Your Patients
Consumers want information, so give it to them. Offer a written description of your practice's credit and collection policies to all new patients so they never feel blindsided. Tell them in clear language what their responsibilities are for making copayments at the time of service, as well as how your practice invoices for deductibles and co-insurance. Additionally, medical billing companies often offer free consultations to make complicated things easier to understand as well as provide updates on new trends in the healthcare industry.

Do Internal Audits
Every business, no matter the industry, should do internal audits from time to time to ensure their processes are optimized. Is your registration process as efficient as it could be? Could you tweak it to reduce redundant questions and forms? Have you included checkpoints that validate information within your practice management system? Many medical billing companies like CureMD provide services to make internal auditing easier based on compliance requirements (i.e. checklists).

Be as Transparent as Possible
Speak with your patients about their costs. Most people have no clue what an ultrasound let alone surgery will cost them. You can help them make informed decisions so they won't get a bill that will give them a heart attack.

Connect with Payers
From time to time, it's a good idea to connect with payers to discuss any payment or administrative issues. You will find this task like exercising or drinking kale smoothies – no one wants to do it but it is beneficial.

Avoid Medical Jargon
The last thing patients need is a bunch of medical mumbo-jumbo (or billing codes) on their billing statement. Just give them an easy to read and understandable summary of services provided and costs associated.

Use a Quality Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) Solution
Is your billing system compliant with HIPAA regulations? Can your RCM help you improve communication with your patients? The better your RCM, the better your billing communications, and the better your revenue becomes. It's a fantastic cycle that can only happen when you are using a proven RCM solution.

Can we ever move towards patient friendly medical billing software? The answer is we can and we must, because consumers are mad as hell and they aren't going to take it anymore. The provider who makes it the easiest for patients to understand information and pay, will be rewarded in this crowded marketplace.

Author Bio:
Alex Tate is a health IT Consultant at CureMD who provides perceptive, engaging and informative content on industry wide topics including EHR, EMR, medical billing companies, practice management and compliance.

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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