How Inova Health is customizing the billing process to improve patient experience

As hospitals and health systems work to optimize patient revenue management and payer-focused billing processes, one Northern Virginia-area health system is turning to VisitPay, an online financial engagement platform that aims to simplify the billing experience for both patients and health systems.

In a March 1 webinar sponsored by VisitPay and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Wendy Alexander, vice president of analytics and client services at VisitPay, joined Liz Ward, vice president of revenue cycle at Falls Church, Va.-based Inova Health System, and Drew Cobb, vice president of clinical applications at Inova, to discuss how VisitPay addresses patient needs, why Inova chose VisitPay and the health system's experience implementing the platform.

VisitPay's platform is customizable to each health system based on the segments and subsegments of the patient populations they serve, and helps health systems across the country improve patient and provider outcomes by boosting patient satisfaction, increasing payment rates and reducing cost to collect. VisitPay clients include Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Healthcare and Boise, Idaho-based St. Luke's Health System.

Inova, a six-hospital health system serving 2 million-plus patients annually, worked closely with VisitPay to evaluate patient billing process issues and develop a successful solution. Inova already uses VisitPay analytics, a patient-focused technology that helps the health system understand how their patients tend to pay. The technology enables Inova to tailor their call strategies inside the call center. For example, these tailored interactions help Inova know how and when to be proactive with consumers.

Now, Inova is implementing VisitPay for patient payments. The payment system not only allows patients to pay online, but also gives Inova a cost-effective digital platform to enable these consumer finance strategies. The pay service is set to go live soon.

Tailoring the revenue cycle to fit patient needs

VisitPay's platform helps Inova's patients better understand their bills and payment processes by allowing them to access information about their visits and payment status either online or by talking with an Inova representative, and by presenting payment options that meet their needs.

By giving patients more engagement options, the digital platform furthers the health system's goal of reaching patients on a more individual level. "Patients are looking for a digital solution," Ms. Ward said. "In fact, many patients would prefer only to interact with us in a digital way and many patients want to have the flexibility of both." In this way, VisitPay allows Inova to function more efficiently and effectively than the slower process of paper statements and dependence on the call center for all tailored interactions.

Ms. Ward discussed a recent experience she had with a patient who said for him to understand what was happening with his account at Inova, he had to have three pieces of paper: Inova's statements, the payer's explanation of benefits and a statement from an electronic payment portal. "With the information and the tools we have now, we can … keep all their payment information in one place."

Managing long-term patient financial plans under a digital platform

While a digital platform allows a health system to provide more flexible payment options to patients, there are potential challenges for health systems when managing complex, long-term patient financial plans.  

Some patients require monthly payment plans to afford costly procedures. Health systems are challenged to find a balance between giving patients who need it more time to pay and making sure the organizations continues to collect payments. "We are making a tradeoff — the accounts receivable will increase. We have to balance that to ensure we provide the longer-term financing for those who need it but also that those who can pay do so," said Ms. Ward.

VisitPay facilitates flexible payment plans to manage long-term financing for surgical patients as well as short-term payment plans for medical office visits. Inova will soon complete an internal launch for employees to help test VisitPay's platform before they fully deploy the system for their patients.

Implementing a digital platform that adjusts to patient preferences  

Implementing a new technology from an outside vendor is a challenge for any organization, particularly for hospitals and health systems, Mr. Cobb said.

In healthcare, new technology is particularly challenging because the industry has not typically been an early adopter of new technology, Mr. Cobb added. As a result, technology vendors from a different industry might expect healthcare organizations to have tools they might not have.

Another challenge for adopting new technology platforms stems from the significant differences between patient populations at each hospital. "There's not a cookie cutter for patient populations," Mr. Cobb said. "You have to be able to adjust the outline for the system depending on the demands of each healthcare customer. That's the learning curve for any vendor that comes into this industry from another industry."

Therefore, to adjust to different patient populations' needs, VisitPay allows Inova to continually test different consumer finance experiences and explore payment options to learn what works best for their patients, all without coding or interrupting the EMR system. "All patients — whether they manage payments through technology platforms or by phone — must have access to the same payment options," Mr. Cobb said.            

Implementing an online engagement platform can help health systems bridge the technology gap for patient interaction. "Patients use technology in other parts of their life and they hit healthcare and they wonder why they don't have that same portability, or the ability to go to one place for all the answers," Mr. Cobb said. "We want our patients to have all their financing information all in one place, and that's a critical piece of making payment information more user-friendly."

To listen to the full webinar recording, click here.

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