Investing in consumerism — Why St. Luke's approach to billing prioritizes the patient experience

In today's economic landscape, patients are comparing healthcare services to ensure they're getting the best deal, and putting off care they can't afford. To address this potentially dangerous trend, Easton, Pa.-based St. Luke's University Health Network looked to retailers to find strategies to stand out from the competition while providing more affordable care.

In a June 13 webinar, hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Simplee, St. Luke's University Health Network Vice President of Revenue Cycle Richard Madison, shared insights into how St. Luke's patient financial connection system is changing their revenue cycle processes.

Prior to implementing its patient financial connection system, St. Luke's, like many health systems, delivered an inconvenient and opaque patient billing experience. The health system sent patients traditional billing invoices and offered access to a website that required patients to complete multiple steps and provide several pieces of information to view a bill.

"We were an organization with multiple [billing] systems from Cerner [and] McKesson. We had IDX for our physician billing, Allscripts for our practice management. Our websites were separate, our billing statements were separate," Mr. Madison said. "We heard our patients loud and clear about how confused they were not only with the multiple statements, but also with just wanting access to a web system that would enable them to pay easily."

When looking to revamp their billing practices, St. Luke's administration took a cue from the retail space: be the most accommodating player in the market. Mr. Madison said the health system's competition with regards to the patient financial experience wasn't other hospitals.

"Our competition in terms of patient experience are the Amazons, the Costcos, those onsite retailers that make it extremely easy for patients or consumers to buy the thing they're looking for," Mr. Madison said. "That's who we needed to match ourselves against."

St. Luke's turned to Simplee to revitalize its billing system. The health system's the out-of-date billing statements and overly complex website were the first to go. St. Luke's redesigned both to provide patients with a simple overview of what's owed and offer several payment methods.

Providing patients with a transparent financial experience is important to consumers. In a March 2018 Gallup poll of more than 1,000 adults, 55 percent of respondents said they worried about healthcare availability and affordability a "great deal," making it the most worrisome issue identified in the survey. Respondents expressed greater worry over healthcare affordability than issues like crime, drug use and terrorism.

St. Luke's and Simplee send electronic payment reminders to patients. Before an account ever comes due, the health system sends an email reminder with a hyperlink to a payment portal.

About 42 percent of patients now pay their bill within seven days of receiving an email. Thirty percent of patients pay via mobile devices, which is higher than ecommerce platforms (24 percent), according to ComScore's State of the US Online Economy first quarter 2018 report.

The Simplee platform increased St. Luke's self-service payments from 49 percent to 84 percent and is on track to help St. Luke's realize $900,000 in annual savings by year end.

Additionally, Simplee transformed the health system's phone-based billing department with the installation of an automated payment system. About 50 percent of patients calling the billing department have converted to the automated voice response system, resulting in 120 fewer calls per day and an annual cost savings of $300,000.

"We're responding to the age of consumerism," Mr. Madison said. "We want to make sure patients have easy access to their information. … [Delivering] satisfaction to our patients is [our] No. 1 [priority]."

To view a recording of this webinar, click here. To view the webinar slides click here.

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