Patients' evolving role as payers: 3 expert takeaways

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It took Katie Carow as long to ask her health insurer whether an upcoming procedure was authorized as it did for her to run 50 minutes' worth of errands.

In that time, she stopped at Starbucks, Walgreens, a high school and a dry cleaner.

"What that means to me is that Starbucks has better customer service, my dry cleaner has better customer service [and] Walgreens has better customer service" than her insurer, Ms. Carow, a principal at Carow Consulting, said during a panel she moderated at Becker's Hospital Review's 4th Annual Health IT + Revenue Cycle Conference. "There are so many rooms for improvement we can make in this area."

Ms. Carow spoke alongside three panelists on the topic of patient consumerism and increased patient payments during the Sept. 21 panel in Chicago. What follows are three takeaways from the panel on the evolving role of patients becoming payers.

1. When asked about the effects of high-deductible health plans and more patient out-of-pocket costs, Gail Babes, senior manager of health, digital and emerging technologies, and data and analytics at EY, said: "Whether we like it or not, employers are oftentimes the primary reason that a lot of these insurers are moving in this direction, and they're getting increasing pressure from employers to make costs more affordable. The way they think they can do this is by high-deductible health plans that have value-based reimbursements."

2. Zeev Kain, MD, president of the American College of Perioperative Medicine and executive director of the Center on Stress & Health at University of California, Irvine, offered a provider's view on patients as the new payers: "Now that the patients are more like consumers, they judge us differently. They need to look at us differently, so we need to respond to them differently. They have more choices now. They can shop around. And they're evaluating all of our services. Now we have to think in terms of, OK, what can we do better so our patients will actually value our services?"

3. Amy Boyer, a consultant at KarenZupko & Associates, said one way she is seeing a shift to patient payers within practices is payment discussions before a surgery is scheduled. "From my perspective working in physician practices, whether private practice or employed, we're seeing that shift in collecting from patients and not just collecting from the insurance carrier. The practices that are going to be successful financially are adapting and shifting from the model [where] we just provide the service, we send in a claim, and then we'll bill the patient afterward.

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