Consumers want these 5 things from their hospital finance experience

Of the 2,000 U.S. healthcare consumers surveyed in a 2018 report by revenue cycle solutions provider VisitPay, 65 percent said cost plays a vital role in their overall satisfaction with a physician or health system. However, the survey revealed cost is far from the only concern patients have when it comes to their financial experience.

VisitPay's experience working with St. Luke's Health System exemplified the survey findings. When the organizations began their partnership roughly five years ago, the Boise, Idaho-based health system maintained a regular patient satisfaction top box score of 28 percent. Michael Rawdan, senior director of financial services and patient experience at St. Luke's, said one of the things the organizations found was that St. Luke's did not have any data indicating how patients felt about their financial experience at the system and why they were so unhappy with it.

"Healthcare is one of those interesting industries that [doesn't] ask patients about how they felt about their financial journey … We know that the clinical side spends a lot of time collecting information on HCAHPS [and other patient satisfaction scores], but on the self-pay side, there really hasn't been a lot," he said.

VisitPay and St. Luke's work revealed several other factors, apart from cost, that patients consider when evaluating their financial experience at a healthcare organization.

Mr. Rawdan spoke about the biggest things patients look for in their healthcare financial experience during a March 6 webinar sponsored by VisitPay and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review. Mr. Rawdan was joined by Jenny Renee, director of patient financial services at Inova Health System in Falls Church, Va.; and Vince Martino, chief product officer and cofounder of VisitPay. The webinar was moderated by Will Reilly, vice president of client and consumer marketing at VisitPay.

The speakers outlined five aspects all consumers expect from their hospital financial experience:

1. Single monthly statements. Mr. Martino noted that during VisitPay's collaboration with St. Luke's, the organizations discovered 87 breakpoints in the patient financial experience — one of which was that the health system did not offer single billing statements.

Mr. Rawdan said what happens at other organizations outside of healthcare is that customers typically receive one cohesive bill from an organization regardless of the number of services rendered. However, healthcare consumers may  receive disparate bills for multiple services, which become difficult to keep track of, causing payments to potentially pile up and go into collections. He added that while other sectors have set the bar in terms of consumers' expectations when dealing with finances, the healthcare industry tends to lag behind in those areas.

2. Tailored payment options. Ms. Renee said Inova Health System, which also uses VisitPay solutions, has worked to not only simplify the payment process, but also provide consumers with tailored billing options.

"I kept saying there's got to be a better way. We're Inova, we're the largest healthcare organization in the Washington, D.C., northern Virginia area, so we need to up our technology and offer our patients more flexibility," she said.

The health system found several ways to tailor billing options to patients' needs and schedules. For example, Ms. Renee said officials found the system lost significant revenue when the billing office reduced its hours of operation or saw a reduction in staff due to inclement weather or other situations, so they implemented VisitPay's online portal to allow patients to create their own payment plans. She noted that since implementing the solution, patients have begun taking full advantage of the added billing opportunities.

3. Easy and immediate access to support. Mr. Martino noted that "consumers want to access a portal the way they want to access it," and that it's a hospital or health systems' responsibility to "provide a variety of options to communicate so consumers feel like they're in control." He mentioned that consumers typically reach out to a call center because they have a question or there is an issue they need to resolve. In those instances, hospitals should ensure they have a friendly voice available to patients on the other side of the phone.

"[Hospitals should] ensure there's an empathic voice at the other end. Most organizations have auto responses enabled, but there's always going to be some [human] intervention there when the situation is unique," he said.

4. Customized communications. Along with tailored billing options, customers also want access to customized communication. Similar to Inova's findings with their billing offices, Mr. Rawdan said St. Luke's has tried to "meet patients where they are," and tailor their business operations around what is likely easier for the patient. He noted that providing digital options, like chat tools, as an alternative to call centers, for example, allows patients the freedom to reach out to the health system on their own time, creating a better patient experience.

5. Clarity, transparency and accuracy. Ms. Renee said one of Inova Health System's goals in restructuring its financial experience was to commit to maintaining clarity, transparency and accuracy in patient billing. Part of that goal was to ensure patients' information was up to date online, instead of solely relying on paper billing statements.

"We were resoundingly hearing that there were issues with the mail or [that patients] didn't receive [bills] or [they] went to an incorrect address, whatever was registered in the system. It was important for us to be clear about what the patient actually owes," she said.

She said the health system worked with VisitPay to link their portal to the system's existing MyChart portal, allowing patients the opportunity to get a clear and accurate depiction of their finances. The move resulted in an 85-96 percent satisfaction rate among patients, beyond what officials expected, Ms. Renee said.

To view the webinar, click here.

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