Healthcare executives: Improving the patient experience is key to a healthy bottom line


Hospital and health system reimbursement is more closely tied to patient satisfaction than ever before, and the link between patient satisfaction and revenue is expected to strengthen in years to come.  

There has been a major push in recent years for more price transparency in the healthcare industry as patients shoulder more medical costs. "There are a lot of people who have concerns about how they're going to pay for the care they receive," said Aaron Kull, managing director and North America revenue cycle offering lead at Accenture, during an executive roundtable Sept. 21 at the Becker's Hospital Review 3rd Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Conference in Chicago.

In addition to patients with high out-of-pocket costs, Mr. Kull said patients 55 and younger are also a force behind the price transparency movement. He said millennials, Gen-Xers and Gen-Zers are more than three times as likely to price shop for care as older generations.

How hospitals are addressing the push for more transparency

Provider organizations have responded to the demand for more transparency. However, there is still significant work to be done.

Although most patients want to be told how much their medical care will cost, the majority of providers are not offering pre-treatment cost estimates. Mr. Kull said about 50 percent of patients know their estimated out-of-pocket costs prior to seeing a medical professional, but only about one in four got that information from their provider. When healthcare organizations fail to provide patients with price information, they sometimes resort to using third-party price estimators or other online tools which may provide inaccurate information. When this happens, patients may end up using low-quality information to influence important health decisions, potentially causing adverse financial consequences for patients and their families.

While there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to price transparency, some hospitals and health systems have made it a top priority. The vice president of finance at a rural hospital in the south said his organization tries to give patients clarity about what they will owe as soon as possible. He said his hospital sometimes provides patients with out-of-pocket cost estimates three to four weeks prior to a procedure. This allows patients to prepare for any financial burden.

The vice president of managed care at a seven-hospital system in the northeast said it is important to improve transparency in all areas that could affect the amount a patient pays. For example, he said patients do not want to find out after the fact that there was an out-of-network provider involved in their care.

Engaging patients as early as possible not only helps boost patient satisfaction but also helps ensure provider organizations receive payment. Although patients are enrolling in health plans that require them to pay more out-of-pocket for their care, it is ultimately up to providers to collect that payment. 

To ensure timely collection of payment, it is vital for healthcare organizations to provide price information to patients before the point of care, according to Dave Gaydosh, managing director and North America revenue cycle offering lead at Accenture. He said about 36 percent of patients are willing to pay for care up front, which "significantly reduces the [revenue cycle] burden on the back end." He also noted that more than half of patients do not pay their medical bills by the due date, which further underscores the importance of offering patient payment options prior to care and at the point of service.

Patient satisfaction must be a top priority 

Providing a great consumer experience is a challenge in every industry, especially in healthcare. From receiving cost of care information to putting a post-discharge plan into place, patients want their healthcare experience to mirror interactions they have in other industries. However, meeting patient demands can be difficult for hospitals and health systems, which are facing cost pressure and are simultaneously trying to change their strategy and innovate to remain competitive.

Patients want their experience to be "seamless, simple, transparent, coordinated, personalized and secure," said Mr. Kull. Although healthcare organizations are facing a number of challenges, they cannot afford to falter when it comes to patient satisfaction. Hospitals that fail to alter their revenue cycle to respond to patients' expectations will likely see bad debt rise, as they will fail to collect from patients who are either frustrated by the process or confused by their bill. Provider organizations that fail to respond could also see some of their patients seek care elsewhere.

During the roundtable, executives emphasized that improving patient satisfaction goes beyond making hospital billing more patient friendly. From improving care coordination to providing patients with cost information prior to a planned procedure, the executives discussed various initiatives their organizations have undertaken to improve the patient experience.

"When you start to look at all of the individual pieces consumers want … it is not simple," said Mr. Gaydosh from Accenture. However, the changing healthcare landscape makes it necessary for provider organizations to focus on improving the patient experience. "We're not going to be in fee-for-service … for the next 30 years. [Healthcare] is going to evolve. So we have to address these things," he said. 

More articles on healthcare finance: 

Tennessee hospital closes after falling 94% short of GoFundMe goal
California hospital files for bankruptcy after missing payroll
With 18 days cash on hand, NYC Health + Hospitals calls on state to release $380M in DSH funding

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