How to select a financing partner to help your patients: Q&A with Shannon Burke, SVP and General Manager of Health Systems, Synchrony

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A patient’s experience isn’t just one moment in time, it’s a journey from scheduling, to parking, to patient care to payment.  In fact, patients may be comparing their hospital experiences to their other consumer experiences rather than comparing experiences hospital to hospital.  

As the consumerization of healthcare accelerates and patients assume more responsibility for the cost of their care, the need to integrate the payment experience into the complete patient journey has never been more clear.  

Practices and hospitals are working hard to make accessing care easier, from patient portals that help with scheduling appointments to providing lab results.  Payment options should be included in the evolution of the patient portal and other vehicles in order to avoid negative payment experiences that can overshadow positive clinical outcomes.  

Selecting a strong healthcare financing partner to support the integration, implementation and expansion of flexible payment options can lead to both better patient satisfaction and stronger revenue cycle management.

Q: What should hospitals and health systems look for in a healthcare financing partner?

A: The area of healthcare finance has been expanding, but the need has never been so great. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has reported that Americans are paying more in out-of-pocket costs than ever before, surpassing $400 billion dollars annually.1  To help anticipate and plan for medical costs, hospitals and health systems may not be able to be the sole providers of financing. Simply put, it may not be fiscally sound and requires a significant amount of human and revenue investment to collect these costs.  

In today’s era, hospitals and health systems are seeking ways to provide the experience and resources patients desire and also to optimize their revenue cycle management.  With major revenue-generating procedures being curtailed by the pandemic, the need to adapt is critically important for most organizations.  

But how do you choose the right partner?   Hospitals and health systems need to consider healthcare financing as more than a plug-in solution. There are several factors to consider, like whether the institution can grow and adapt with you, how long they have been providing healthcare financing solutions, and what innovations or new solutions have been rolled out or are about to launch that address our rapidly changing climate.  Healthcare finance sounds simple but providing an elegant solution that is easy for patients and fast for institutions takes both insight about future needs and commitment to providing a variety of options to deliver high-quality service.

 1National Health Expenditure Fact Sheet: Historical NHE, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), December 2020.

Q: What benefits does a strong financial partner deliver to hospitals and health systems?

A:  Healthcare financing is no longer about the final transaction.  The need to integrate financial obligations into the patient journey is essential and doing so in a way that is compassionate and empowering requires a strong financial partner.  Patients are expecting their healthcare providers to be able to have discussions about all aspects of their care plans, including cost.  A strong financial partner can provide tools and resources that support these conversations. Organizations need a partner who can provide proven and reliable flexible financing options.  Providers and patients want to know that there is staying power with the solutions they choose.  They want to know the financial solution they selected will be there when they need it most.

Hospitals and health systems also need to consider how a financial partner will integrate into their revenue cycle management and administrative workflows.  A partner needs to think about the patient but also have the flexibility to meet each institution’s unique needs and workflow demands.  A financial partner should provide solutions that help improve billing efficiencies and impact the overall financial health of a hospital.  

When selecting your partner, think about the entire lifecycle of the patient experience and how that partner can provide resources that bring the financial aspect of a patient’s health and wellness needs into the fold earlier. Consider how that partner will fit into your organization’s culture and address the evolving needs of not only your patients, but also the providers caring for them and the administrators overseeing the business of your practice. 

Healthcare finance is not a one-and-done relationship.  The needs of the patient and organization will change, and you want a partner who will be exactly that – a partner who can anticipate and help you navigate the changing landscape with new solutions and options to meet tomorrow’s needs today.

Q: How does a strong financial partner benefit patients?

A: Today’s patients want a provider – and by extension a third-party financial organization – they trust and can rely on as their healthcare needs change.  Importantly, patients desire relationships with their providers that address not just their health needs, but also how to pay for the care they need.  There is a rising expectation for providers to offer more financial resources, which is where third-party financing partners come into play.  Financial partners can provide tools and resources for patients to help them plan how they will pay for out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance or benefit programs, like Health Savings Accounts (HSAs.)  Some third-party financial solutions, like Synchrony’s CareCredit credit card can offer options that go beyond another means of payment, to offer deferred interest promotional financing, which can be a welcomed added feature for those trying to fit their healthcare costs into their budgets. Understanding how healthcare costs fit into their budgets, and having flexible financing options available to them, can impact how patients view their overall healthcare experience. 

Today’s patients demand easy online account management, Apple and Android compatible mobile apps, access through patient portals, helpful monthly statements, payment reminders, cost calculators and the support of a call center. Digitization is more critical than ever. Only partners with robust technology platforms can deliver these types of consumer financial services and explore future ways to leverage technology to meet the new and evolving needs of both patients and providers.

A financial partner is an extension of your practice so consider how that third party handles patient payments or interacts with individuals to make sure they are reflective of your organization.

Q: Is it important to select a financing partner with experience in healthcare?

A: We can all agree that healthcare is complex, and today’s payor/provider/patient relationships reflect that complexity.  Today’s healthcare providers have challenges and opportunities unlike those of other business sectors.  

Hospitals and health systems need partners who understand their business from every angle including slim margins and very long payment cycles. There are many third parties that are entering the healthcare finance realm but having a firm understanding of the needs of providers and patients is crucial for success today.  Hospitals and health systems should consider the commitment to the space, knowledge of the intricacies of the different ways various healthcare organizations operate – from electives to general health and wellness.  Organizations should also consider whether their partners will be able to anticipate and innovate new flexible financing solutions and vehicles that will integrate with existing infrastructure while also being able to adapt to the practice’s changing needs. 

A third-party partner that is steeped in healthcare should be able to provide tools and resources that inform discussions and allow for compassion and empathy to be present during a conversation that can sometimes seem awkward.  Conversations about finances may have long-been taboo, but the need to face these conversations early on is critical.

Q: What financial products for patients does a financing partner offer?

A:  Hospitals and health systems should consider answering the call for more flexible financing options that provide patients with a variety of tools and vehicles to pay for healthcare services.  Patients recognize that their role in healthcare costs is increasing as the responsibility for paying for care continues to shift more towards the consumer. They are already expecting conversations and more transparency around their care costs and are already seeking new ways to pay for the care they need when they need it, without using their spending money, savings or tying up their credit on a credit card.

Hospitals and health systems should consider ways to make healthcare more accessible, and this includes offering a variety of payment options that help patients fit the care they need into their budgets.  Recognizing that a patient’s financial situation is as unique as their healthcare condition is important.  Not all therapies work for every patient, and the same can be said about how patients pay for their care: not everyone wants or can pay for care the same way. 

Q:  What are the benefits of third-party financing partners compared with in-house financing plans?

A: Hospitals and health systems that have in-house financing assume the debt and liability involved with that care until the patient pays their bill.  There are hidden costs to this approach and, while a noble approach to providing patients with the care they need, the reality is that in-house financing requires significant administrative time and risk, especially given the amount of medical debt that is on the rise.  In addition, having patients on payment plans delays access to revenue that can be used for important programming or investments that are needed or desired.

We all know that the key to sound revenue cycle management is the speed at which payments are received.  Having a third-party financing partner can shorten the cycle from care delivery to full payment.  A financing partner can help reduce administrative costs and improve workflow, it can also help organizations insert discussions around cost of care earlier in the healthcare journey. The sooner an organization can interject a meaningful discussion around the cost of care, the better for everyone.  The patients and providers are making more informed decisions about their care plans, which can impact patient adherence, all while the health system is providing cost transparency and establishing patient expectations.

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