Consumerism and RCM: 3 challenges posed by high deductibles & how to meet them

As high deductible health plans become more common, patients are becoming the new payers. This puts responsibility back in the hands of the provider to provide a consumer-friendly billing experience and collection strategy to maintain the speed of the revenue cycle management process.

At the Becker's 2nd annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Conference in Chicago, the following five panelists discussed the top three challenges of consumerism and how RCM can meet those challenges: Steve Collins, vice president of business development at Zotec Partners; J. Wade Shields, owner and managing partner of Practice Partners; Susan Hawkins, executive director of revenue cycle at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, Calif.; Amanda Cancelliere, vice president of operations and business performance services at McKesson Technology Solutions; and Brooke Murphy, writer/reporter with Becker's Healthcare.

1. The newfound demand for a seamless patient experience. "Patients are opting to shop around," Ms. Cancelliere said. "If they don't get the level of service they expect — which includes the financial process — they will go somewhere else." To help meet the demand for a better financial experience, RCM is shifting to more front-end solutions, according to Ms. Cancelliere. Ms. Hawkins echoed this sentiment and said her hospital is working to build the infrastructure to provide cost estimates at the time of scheduling. Providing front-end solutions for patients helps ward off surprise bills, which damage the patient experience.

While a variety of cultural shifts are occurring, much of the demand for a better patient experience can be met in small ways, like making your hospital's website mobile friendly, according to Ms. Murphy of Becker's Healthcare. "A lot of the challenges healthcare is facing right now are putting out information in a way that's modern and familiar to [patients]," she said. This strategy has already been a boon to Mr. Collins, who said adding texting capabilities increased patient response and payments by 18 percent.

2. Everyone is looking to save. "Whether it's the patient or shopper, insurance companies contacting patients in advance to shift them to another venue, or healthcare organizations trying to find cheaper payers… In the end, everybody is just looking to save," said Ms. Hawkins, which is what makes the current healthcare environment unique.

Though it may seem that this environment pits different interests against each other, different entities actually have to collaborate to figure out how to reduce costs for patients, according to Ms. Hawkins. One partner that providers often overlook is the patient. Providers will actually end up collecting more if they are able to partner with patients and offer various ways to pay. Ms. Murphy gave the example of zero-percent loan programs, which have been successful when implemented across a variety of hospitals. If a patient cannot pay a bill, charging interest and asking them to pay more is not going to be a successful strategy, she said. "Now that it's all about becoming a partner with the patient, having a zero-percent loan program presents you as a partner," she added.

3. Patients need more information. "A lot of physicians today are trying to be transparent and help patients understand what their responsibility is, but undoubtedly, they don't even know what their contracted rates are," said Mr. Shields. If the physicians don't know, the patients certainly don't know their financial responsibility. Plus, many patients are fearful because they don't understand how RCM works, Mr. Collins of Zotec Partners added. "It is essential we continue to provide education to patients, especially elderly patients, to help them understand these things," said Mr. Collins.

Patient education needs to be multimodal. What will work for some patients — smartphones and texting — may not work for others, who prefer phone calls or written information. It is essential hospitals and other providers give patients as much information as they can in advance. "It helps them and the hospital make educated decisions," Ms. Cancelliere said. "And it helps create a sense of loyalty with that facility."


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