How to improve the patient financial experience? Give them a voice

American households will receive more than 25 billion invoices and statements this year.

Recent trends show that around 15 percent of these bills will go uncollected by providers. There are a myriad of reasons for this – from general confusion about the payment process, to unnecessarily complex invoices to important bills simply getting lost in the shuffle during the everyday chaos of life.

As the cost to collect patient balances continues to rise, it’s imperative for providers to explore new strategies to improving financial outcomes. Developing more patient-friendly payment tools is a start. But even more powerful may be engaging with patients in a new way, treating them as individuals and ensuring they have a voice in the process.

Moving past the one-size-fits-all approach

Patients are not all one in the same – they have different needs, barriers and preferences that affect how, when and if they pay their bills. They want, and expect, a personalized experience. Due to these shifting expectations, accurate patient insights are more critical than ever before. For healthcare providers, this means understanding how patients view receiving and paying medical bills, and where improvements in the process are needed – this is critical to the success of their revenue cycle.

The power of patient feedback

Evaluating patient experience is no longer differential – it’s table stakes. Patient satisfaction surveys, activated at various points throughout the revenue cycle, are one way to help identify what is going right and what isn’t so you can make changes to provide the best possible experience in the future for your patients.

For example, the most recent Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Star Ratings by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services revealed that only 188 hospitals in the U.S. have a five-star HCAHPS summary star rating, which is based exclusively on patient survey scores. This patient feedback helps hospitals better understand and improve experiences for patients, delivering a multitude of “down the road” benefits – adherence to post-discharge protocols, improved payment behaviors, increased loyalty and positive word of mouth.

Minnesota-based Apex Revenue Technologies, in partnership with InfoTrends, recently completed its first “Patient Financial Experience Report” to learn more about how non-affiliated patients across the US feel about their healthcare billing experiences. Apex learned that only 32 percent of patients are “very satisfied” with their experience. The Report also found:

Online billing can be better: Only 23 percent of patients said they felt the ease of use of their online bill pay service was excellent. As a result, there is a gap between the number of patients who say they prefer to use electronic channels and the number currently using these channels.
Patients prefer flexibility, more options to pay: Patients desire flexible payment plan options, including discounts for pre-payment and on-time payments. In fact, 34 percent of patients who have missed a payment said they would be more likely to pay if they received a discount. The Report found only 31 percent of patients have been offered the option of a personalized payment plan, so there is room to improve in this area.
Billing reminders make all the difference: Roughly 30 percent of patients are more likely to pay their healthcare bill on time if they receive better reminders (via text, email or letter).

While measuring the satisfaction levels of large groups of patients is extremely important, providers can and should take it a step further, by taking a deeper dive into the data and understanding how experience satisfaction rates vary based on individual patients’ unique needs, behaviors, preferences and medical experiences. For example, patients who have made multiple hospital visits (which means more opportunities to engage and address issues) may be more satisfied with their overall experience than those who made just one visit. This is critical information that may improve both individual and overall patient experience, and in turn, the success of the revenue cycle.

Turning insights into action

We know that how patients perceive their billing experience may impact how they rank their overall healthcare experience. They may consider looking elsewhere for better quality of care if that perception is negative. Healthcare providers across the country have an opportunity to create more clarity, consistency and better patient engagement throughout the revenue cycle to ease confusion, enrich overall patient satisfaction and improve financial outcomes.

Whether via surveys, digital feedback platforms or face-to-face conversation, engaging with and understanding patients – as individuals – is now a necessity. The ability to turn key learnings and analytics about patient populations into insights, and then translate those insights into action can be a game-changer for providers. Embracing a “voice of the patient” strategy is the ideal place to start.

“American households will receive more than 25 billion invoices and statements this year” (According to a 2015 Blueflame Consulting study)

About the author:
Patrick Maurer has served as Apex’s president since May 2008. He is responsible for establishing Apex’s Product Strategy and oversees the Product Development and Client Success functions. Prior to joining Apex, Pat worked as EVP, Senior Operations Officer for SPS Commerce, an enterprise retail cloud services company providing integrations, collaboration, connectivity, visibility, retail performance analytics and on-demand supply chain management solutions. Pat holds a B.A. in Management, Organizational Leadership from St. John’s University (Minn.).

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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