How Memorial Hermann is tackling consumerism in the digital era

Hospitals and health systems are increasingly focusing on consumers as they make up a larger portion of organizations' payer mix and are a crucial revenue source.

This includes Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System, a nonprofit clinically integrated network with more than 250 care delivery sites.

The system sees patients as key stakeholders who seek tools for a simple and convenient electronic bill pay experience. Therefore, it has aggressively worked to meet those demands.

"We think it starts at primary care and we think in terms of digital and telephonic that people, consumers, patients come in all walks and sizes," said David Bradshaw, executive vice president and chief strategy and information officer for Memorial Hermann, during a workshop Sept. 22 at the Becker's Hospital Review 3rd Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle conference in Chicago.

"Some want [a] convenient clinic in grocery store, some virtually over phone, some will be happy to call nurse triage line. So ... we have to be in all three of those modalities. And healthcare is different than selling books. It's still a physical business, so we're trying to meld the physical and digital together."

Memorial Hermann is achieving this through Everyday Well, a personalized web app co-developed by the system and Cerner. The Everyday Well site allows patients to schedule appointments, check lab results, contact their physician and pay their bill, among other features. Within Everyday Well is the "Pay My Bill" tool powered by Simplee, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based provider of healthcare payment software. Pay My Bill offers interactive bills as well as access to benefit and previous payment information. With interactive bills, patients can further look at bill details online.

"So what we're trying to do is ... deliver to consumers a tool they can interact with," said Mr. Bradshaw.

He cited a confusing and dysfunctional healthcare billing process as the primary reasoning behind Memorial Hermann's efforts. Most consumers (87 percent) said they receive statements via mail, and 76 percent of consumers said they are confused by their medical bills, according to a report from InstaMed.

So "I think we've got to take this very confusing [and] dysfunctional process and try to streamline it and make it easy, and we've been doing that with Simplee now for about three years," Mr. Bradshaw said.

He noted these efforts are especially important as deductibles rise.

"We see patients showing up with $3,000 [to] $5,000 deductibles. They have no real means of paying $5,000, so we are all becoming in the consumer retail business. That's where we got so much growth [in patient payment] we need to continue to drive forward," Mr. Bradshaw added.

He also noted various studies showing a correlation between patient billing satisfaction and satisfaction with a healthcare organization's brand. For instance, a Connance study found 82 percent of patients who were satisfied with the billing process would recommend the hospital to a friend. In contrast, only 15 percent of patients who were less than satisfied with the billing process said they would recommend the hospital.

Additionally, Mr. Bradshaw noted the importance of payment plans. More than half of patients (57 percent) said it's "important" or "very important" their healthcare provider offer no-interest payment extension options, according to the HealthFirst Financial Patient Survey. But the survey found only 8 percent of patients received zero- or low-interest financing from a healthcare provider.

Given these trends, Mr. Bradshaw said Pay My Bill has been extremely valuable because it offers detailed interactive statements with a design that helps patients better understand their bills and works across multiple technology mediums such as cellphones, desktop computers and tablets.

Memorial Hermann's efforts have paid off. Memorial Hermann reported a 52 percent increase in digital self-service collection, a 19 percent decrease in cost per payment and a 15 percent increase in total collected between 2014 and 2016.

"So we are migrating our patients from writing us checks and sending it in the mail, where we have humans and have to open those, code them and put them in the bank and all that, to an online experience where all that kind of happens electronically," said Mr. Bradshaw.

As far as the future, Memorial Hermann hopes to consolidate the family bill, where families can see charges for individual family members on one statement. The system also hopes to give patients the ability to pay balances from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, which is also on the Simplee platform, at the same time they pay balances from Memorial Hermann.

 

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