Key considerations for a consumer-first financial engagement strategy — 4 takeaways

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Health systems are working to meet consumer demand for more price transparency by using digital tools. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend and brought attention to payment options that center on the patient while improving alignment among departments involved in the revenue cycle.

During a virtual roundtable sponsored by ClearBalance HealthCare® as part of Becker's 6th Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Virtual Conference, two experts on transparency and consumer financing led the discussion:

  • Jeremiah Rothschild, chief strategy officer, ClearBalance HealthCare®
  • Bryan Chamberlin, partner, Guidehouse

Four key takeaways were:

  1. Health systems' adoption of digital tools for patients accelerated during the pandemic. Popular investments by health systems include portals for price and payment transparency (automating some price estimates), online connections with financial counseling and automated records requests.

    Some see significant benefits from tablet systems that enable consumers to input payment information and respond to questionnaires. Not only is payment information captured and the copay collected up front, but clinicians find that information collected from patients is more accurate and behavior screening is more likely to be completed.

  2. The experience with online price transparency tools varies significantly. While adoption has become widespread, the results are uneven. Several participants reported being unable to provide patients a simple cost estimate, especially for complex procedures like surgery, resulting in patient confusion. Others described success with a platform that enables consumer-friendly keyword searches, leading to more understandable and accurate results for patients. A Midwestern hospital system experienced benefits ranging from "better estimate quality" to "reduced denials and better, faster registration."

    A large urban public health system enhanced its patient payment portal with intensive training for financial counselors and others, "explaining the benefits of paying at the point of service and being able to overcome any kind of barriers."

  3. The rise in patient-centric approaches to healthcare, combined with the pandemic, accentuated the importance of flexible payment options. Providers are seeking patient-centered options for a flexible payment environment, while experimenting with accelerating payments to give health systems greater certainty. A revenue cycle vice president for a faith-based health system said that the organization's mission made it especially vulnerable during the pandemic. This system provided resources for people who were unemployed, extended a financial grace policy and temporarily ceased ED collections.

    Positive incentives also play a vital role.

    "We have policies in place when people are ready to pay for their copays, deductibles and out-of-pocket that if you pay it within 30 days from the service date, you get an additional discount," a participant from a nonprofit regional medical center in the Southwest said. Another approach was to offer discounts for people who addressed all outstanding balances when stimulus checks were sent out.

    Learning how to meet consumers where they want to be served, their preferred forms of communications and options for automation are central to the patient-centered approach.

  4. The COVID crisis led to greater alignment between revenue cycle and service line personnel. COVID helped some organizations tighten the connection between service lines and the revenue cycle. For example, the vice president of a Midwestern health system reported that "revenue cycle for the first time is seen as a partner" and brought in "early on in the planning process." A children's hospital ensures that the revenue cycle team participates in briefings for senior leadership. And at another health system in the Northwest, a vice president of revenue cycle leads a cross-functional financial sustainability committee.

To learn more about the event, click here.

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