Is patient billing a pain point for your hospital? Here's how to improve the process

With the rise in high-deductible health plans, patients are shouldering a greater portion of the cost of their medical care. As payment responsibility falls increasingly to the patient, it's vital for hospitals and other provider organizations to make it simple for patients to understand and pay their medical bills.

During the Becker's Hospital Review 4th Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Conference in Chicago, panelists discussed ways to improve the patient billing process and the importance of ensuring patients have a great clinical experience followed by a positive financial experience.

Kathryne Rouse, executive director of revenue cycle customer experience at Renton, Wash.-based Providence Health & Services, discussed several ways to improve the patient financial experience, including giving patients access to prices.

"It's important to have price transparency, and to have that available online," she said. "That's really key to the patient experience."

Although it's important for the patient to understand the amount he or she will owe, it's also critical for that information to be communicated to the patient at the time of care. Many health systems include several sites of care, including acute care hospitals, urgent care centers and physician offices, and the panelists discussed the importance of making sure patients receive a consistent message around payment and billing, regardless of where they receive care.

For example, it's important that "the physician office understands what the patient owes and communicates that to the patient," said Kristine Monus, administrative director of finance, physician and continuum care revenue cycle at Toledo, Ohio-based ProMedica Health System. It's important for those on the "front end of the [revenue cycle] process to understand what's going to happen in the patient payment process and do a better job of collecting upfront," she said.

Another way to improve the patient financial experience is to engage patients in the billing and payment process. "Some of our customers are exploring chat and text to digitally engage their patients," said Conrad Coopersmith, chief revenue officer at VisitPay.

Whether sending patients payment reminders via text or answering their billing questions via online chat, hospitals and health systems are using new tools and services to improve patient billing. However, the process isn't perfect, and problems will still arise. What's important is that providers understand the issues and how to correct them.

Providers must "educate and train people on the phones" and keep track of billing complaints, said Ms. Monus. "We try to go back to the root source of the problem. It's going back to the physician offices and training them. It's making sure the front end understands the impact they're going to have on the back end."

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