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When the economy stumbled in 2009, Sharp HealthCare, a seven-hospital system in the San Diego area, saw its self-pay collections fall by $3.4 million in a single year. Gerilynn Sevenikar, vice president of hospital revenue cycle, pulled together staff members representing a broad range of perspectives—access services, billing, information services, private pay contracts, and others—to brainstorm solutions.The group ended up overhauling the health system’s four billing statements using Patient-Friendly Billing® principles, in addition to adopting other patient engagement tactics The result: Self-pay collections rebounded to their historically normal levels in 2010, even though the economy had not recovered. In addition, phone calls from confused patients fell sharply.“This has definitely been the right thing for us from a patient-relations perspective and from a cash-flow perspective,” Sevenikar says.
Before redesigning the patient bills, Sevenikar, a Lean Six Sigma green belt, organized an information-gathering event to identify problems with the existing documents. The front and back of the bill were taped to poster board, and about 30 front-line staff pointed out problems that patients had with the statements.“I had our customer service unit and self-pay collections staff conduct a gallery walk around the room, documenting the issues that generated the most phone calls from patients who received our statements,” she says. “They represent the voice of our customers. They hear directly what our customers are saying, what aggravates them, what works, what never makes sense, and they know what questions they are answering over and over again.”Sevenikar then accessed HFMA’s Patient Friendly Billing materials, which provide guidance on issues from type size and layout for billing statements to wording. She also reviewed the tapes from patient focus groups that had been conducted a few years earlier and found that patient comments mirrored the feedback from her customer service staff.
Sevenikar then created a draft billing statement that reflected Patient Friendly Billing principles and the issues that Sharp’s staff and patients had identified. Next, Sevenikar and the group took the following steps.A second gallery walk to review the draft. Staff from the customer service unit and private pay collections reviewed the revised draft bill in comparison to the existing bills and made another round of comments.Input from marketing. After that feedback was incorporated into the draft, Sevenikar asked Sharp’s marketing team for input and was advised to make the balance-due information more prominent. Marketing staff members also suggested a few wording changes that Sevenikar found helpful. “They are able to look at it as an audience that has nothing to do with collections,” she says. “So they are able to put themselves into the shoes of a patient probably a little easier than my own team.”Implementation. The new bill was presented to Sharp’s CFO for approval, translated into Spanish, and implemented—just seven months after the health system decided to redesign its bills.
Sharp’s previous bill had a long narrative that went away with the redesign. “Simplify billing statements, keep like information together, make it easy for a patient to see what the bill is for, and keep the narrative to a minimum,” Sevenikar says.The new bill includes a summary of patient charges, which had not been included in the old bills. It also stacks the billed charges and adjustments in a single column so patients can see how the balance due has been calculated.Be patient friendly. Sevenikar’s top priority in redesigning Sharp’s patient bill was to change the tone of the document. “Most important, I wanted to use words that assume the best of our patients instead of assuming that patients are trying to avoid paying their bills,” she says.For example, the new bills include a sentence that apologizes if the patient’s payment and Sharp’s most recent bill crossed in the mail.Do away with misguided statements. Before the overhaul, the first statement that Sharp’s patients received said, “Thank you for choosing Sharp HealthCare to serve your healthcare needs.” However well-intentioned, it irked patients.“Many patients were upset at the inference that they ‘chose’ us when they were brought by ambulance or their physician actually made the decision to come to Sharp and ‘choice’ was never a consideration,” Sevenikar says. “When you get a hospital bill and you don’t have insurance, this statement is a little aggravating.”Another annoyance: The phrase “Balance due now.” “Patients thought ‘I have 20 days to pay, don’t I? How dare you tell me it’s due now?’” Sevenikar says.
In addition to increasing self-pay collections, the redesign accomplished Sevenikar’s goal of decreasing phone calls from patients who had questions about their bills. The call volume to Sharp’s customer service unit immediately dropped when the new bills were introduced.
Equally important, the new bills encourage patients to call if they need help. “They do have a debt, and it’s not going to go away unless they communicate with us,” Sevenikar says. “We want to help patients feel comfortable about making a phone call if they need help resolving the balance.”
While Sevenikar is pleased with the billing statement overhaul, she says Sharp also adopted several other tactics to help the system recover from the rocky patch in 2009. Talking to patients while they are in the hospital. Financial navigators meet with hospitalized patients who have high out-of-pocket responsibilities, or their families, to discuss the funding options that might be available, including financial assistance and charity care. Encouraging compassionate conversations. Sharp provided training to customer service and private-pay collection staff to help them talk to patients about financial issues in a considerate and kind-hearted way. “If we can enter into a compassionate and caring dialogue with patients, then they may be more likely to feel like they have a relationship with Sharp and some responsibility to pay their debts,” Sevenikar says. “In some cases, patients end up contributing something towards their hospital bills, instead of just turning and walking away.”Seeking out other sources of financial assistance. Sharp contracted with an agency to help patients apply for Medi-Cal and other public funding programs in California. In addition, the health system contracted with a company that offers patients low-interest loans so they can pay off their medical debts over time.For Sharp, it was not just a revision of the statements that contributed to the increase in cash flow, Sevenikar says: “It was a comprehensive effort to improve our patient engagement in a lot of different ways.”
View a comparison of Sharp’s previous statement and its newly designed billing statement by clicking on the following links: Sharp HealthCare's Old Statement
Sharp HealthCare's New Statement
Lola Butcher is a freelance writer and editor based in Missouri. Quoted in this article:Gerilynn Sevenikar is vice president of hospital revenue cycle, Sharp HealthCare, San Diego, and a member of HFMA’s San Diego-Imperial Chapter.
Publication Date: Wednesday, May 15, 2013
TriMedx helps health systems control costs and uncover savings opportunities by optimizing the clinical engineering function.
Patient financial engagement is more challenging than ever – and more critical. With patient responsibility as a percentage of revenue on the rise, providers have seen their billing-related costs and accounts receivable levels increase. If increasing collection yield and reducing costs are a priority for your organization, the metrics outlined in this presentation will provide the framework you need to understand what’s working and what’s not, in order to guide your overall patient financial engagement initiatives and optimize results.
A leader from McKesson discusses how healthcare reform is forcing hospitals and health systems to take a different approach to capacity management and patient flow.
No two patients are the same. Each has a very personal healthcare experience, and each has distinct financial needs and preferences that have an impact on how, when and if they chose to pay their healthcare bill. It’s no longer effective to apply static billing techniques to solve the complex challenge of collecting balances from patients. The need to tailor financial conversations and payment options to individual needs and preferences is critical. This presentation provides 10 recommendations that will not only help you improve payment performance through a more tailored approach, but take control of rising collection costs.
Emad Rizk, MD, president and CEO of Accretive Health, discusses the uncertainty facing hospitals and the transitions affecting revenue cycle management.
This white paper, written by Apex Vice President of Solutions and Services, Carrie Romandine, discusses the importance of patient segmentation and messaging specifically related to the patient revenue cycle. Applying strategic messaging that is tailored to each patient type will not only better educate consumers on payment options specific to their billing needs, but it will maximize the amount collected before sending to collections. Further, targeted messaging should be applied across all points of patient interaction (i.e. point of service, customer service, patient statements) and analyzed regularly for maximized results.
Jim Bohnsack, vice president, solution & corporate development for Conifer Health Solutions, explains how the company helps healthcare providers leverage data to deliver better outcomes while optimizing reimbursement for all payment arrangements.
This white paper, written by Apex President Patrick Maurer, discusses methods to increase patient adoption of online payments. Providers are now seeking ways to incrementally collect more payments due from patients as well as speeding up the rate of collections. This white paper shows why patient-centric approaches to online payment portals are important complements to traditional provider-centric approaches.
Steve Scibetta, senior director of channel sales for Ontario Systems' healthcare product line, shares insights into effectively managing receivables.
Increased electronic engagement between healthcare providers and patients provides significant opportunities for improving revenue cycle metrics and encouraging patients to access EHRs. This article, written by Apex Founder and CEO Brian Kueppers, explores a number of strategies to create synergy between patient billing, online payment portals and electronic health record (EHR) software to realize a high ROI in speed to payment, patient satisfaction and portal adoption for meaningful use.
Elena White, vice president of risk, quality, and network solutions for Optum, discusses how healthcare providers can leverage data and technology as they enable risk in their organization.
Faced with a rising tide of bad debt, a large Southeastern healthcare system was seeing a sharp decline in net patient revenues. The need to improve collections was dire. By integrating critical tools and processes, the health system was able to increase online payments and improve its financial position. Taking a holistic approach increased overall collection yield by 10% while costs came down because the number of statements sent to patients fell by 10%, which equated to a $1.3M annualized improvement in patient cash over a six-month period. This case study explains how.
Somnia President and CEO Marc Koch, MD, MBA, explains how hospitals can drive transformative change in the perioperative experience for outstanding clinical and financial outcomes.
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PMMC President Roger L. Shaul discusses the effects of healthcare reform on revenue cycle management and how PMMC's products help clients adapt to a changing financial environment.
Read how Gwinnett Medical Center provides clear connections to financial information, offers multiple payment options for patients, and gives onsite staff the ability to collect payments at multiple points throughout the care process.
Greg Burgess, Founder and Chief Product Officer at Burgess Group shares insights and opportunities for payment integrity in the rapidly changing healthcare IT landscape.
Read how Orlando Health was able to perform deeper dives into claims data to help the health system see claim rejections more quickly–even on the front end–and reduce A/R days.
To maintain fiscal fitness and boost patient satisfaction and loyalty, healthcare providers need visibility into when and how much they will be paid–by whom–and the ability to better navigate obstacles to payment. They need payment clarity. This whitepaper illuminates this concept that is winning fans at forward-thinking hospitals.
Financial services staff are always looking for ways to improve the verification, billing and collections processes, and Munson Healthcare is no different. Read about how they streamlined the billing process to produce cleaner bills on the front end and helped financial services staff collect more than $1 million in additional upfront annual revenue in one year.
Effective revenue cycle management can be a challenge for any hospital, but for smaller providers it is even tougher. Read how Wallace Thomson identified unreimbursed procedures, streamlined claims management, and improved its ability to determine charity eligibility.
Before launching an energy-efficiency initiative, it’s important to build a solid business case and understand the funding options and potential incentives that are available. Healthcare leaders should consider taking the steps outlined in the whitepaper to ease the process of gaining approval, piloting, implementing, and supporting sustainability projects. You will find that investing in sustainability and energy efficiency helps hospitals add cash to their bottom line. Discover how hospitals and health systems have various options for funding energy-efficient and renewable-energy initiatives, depending on their current financial structure and strategy.
Health care is a dynamic mergers and acquisitions market with numerous hospitals and health systems contemplating or pursuing formal arrangements with other entities. These relationships often pose a strategic benefit, such as enhancing competencies across the continuum, facilitating economies of scale, or giving the participants a competitive advantage in a crowded market. Underpinning any profitable acquisition is a robust capital planning strategy that ensures an organization reserves sufficient funds and efficiently onboards partners that advance the enterprise mission and values.
The success of healthcare mergers, acquisitions, and other affiliations is predicated in part on available capital, and the need for and sources of funding are considerations present throughout the partnering process, from choosing a partner to evaluating an arrangement’s capital needs to selecting an integration model to finding the right money source to finance the deal. This whitepaper offers several strategies that health system leaders have used to assess and manage capital needs for their growing networks.
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