Clark Conley

It's no secret that health care is shifting to a more consumer-centric model. At the same time, prices continue to increase just as more of the financial responsibility is being laid on the patient. Due to increasing patient-owed amounts, it is imperative that providers take steps to improve communication to patients. But improving communication to patients isn't only about providing clear, concise financial statements. It's also about facilitating easy payment options, reducing the need for phone calls, and providing a simplified, efficient experience.

It's Not Just About the Patient Statement

Physicians, as well as your business office staff, need to work together to create an environment conducive to positive customer service. Good customer service in a patient-friendly atmosphere will lead to satisfied patients, repeat customers, and improved patient payments.

When establishing processes for improving patient financial interaction, all too often healthcare providers focus their efforts entirely on statements and invoices. There is more to building effective financial communication with patients than simple improvements or minor modifications to statements or bills. Some processes for improving patient financial interaction include:

  • Establishing goals and objectives to reduce incoming patient calls
  • Setting targets for increasing payments and collections
  • Measuring staff against set goals and targets for both call reduction and improved self-pay collections
  • Educating staff on ways to effectively communicate financial obligations to patients
  • Encourage or require staff to ask for payment upfront based on financial responsibility quoted

Immediately Involve the Patient in the Billing Process

At the beginning of the patient interaction, financial obligations should be reviewed in as much detail as possible and agreed upon payment terms should be established. Effectively communicating patient financial responsibility prior to services being rendered helps to ensure that patients understand the amount they are responsible for paying before the invoice arrives. Reviewing financial responsibility with patients up front also helps to reduce incoming calls regarding their statements.

With the rise of consumerism and related high-deductible health plans, patients are exercising more choice in their healthcare decisions and are beginning to adopt a "retail" way of thinking.  Post-encounter letters, including a detailed description of services, pending payer payments/adjustment, and a message thanking the patient for their business should be sent to all patients that have a remaining financial obligation to the provider.

By involving patients in the billing process prior to services being rendered and then approaching them again immediately after the encounter, patients will have a clearer understanding of their responsibilities, which has a positive impact on patient satisfaction. This improves the chance for repeat business from patients helping to ensure your business continues to grow. 

Proven Technologies Help Improve Awareness

As society continues to embrace e-commerce, online billing and payment has become the "new normal" and preferred method for paying bills. According to a 2007 Pew Foundation report, 79 percent of adult Americans have searched online for health information (Fox, S. and Madden, M., Participatory Medicine: How User-Generated Media Are Changing Americans' Attitudes and Actions, Both Online and Offline, Pew Internet & American Life Project).

Another Pew Internet Study found that, in February 2005, 27 percent of Americans used some form of online banking. By the beginning of 2008, that number had risen to 39 percent. In just three short years, the number of people who turn to the Internet for one of their most sensitive transactions-banking-has risen substantially and is poised to continue to rise. In another sign of the public's growing comfort and preference for online banking and purchasing, the same Pew study found that e-commerce revenue has increased by $27.1 billion since 2000 (Horrigan, J.B., Online Shopping, Pew Internet & American Life Project, Feb. 2008).

Providing patients with web access to your existing facility web site helps improve the management and collection of patient-owed fees. Increased patient satisfaction and improved staff efficiencies can be realized almost immediately after implementing an online billing and payment tool. An effective online billing and payment tool will offer two distinct components through which a hospital can collect patient-owed fees.

An online billing and payment patient-facing component.  A patient-facing, web-based tool enables patients to manage their open accounts, pay outstanding balances, securely communicate with the business office 24/7, update address or insurance changes, preregister for services or appointments, etc.

Online billing and payment hospital-facing component. A hospital-facing tool provides customer service capabilities, enabling staff to accept payments in person or over the phone. It also allows staff to view exact replicas of patient statements to help improve communications and efficiencies for payment collection within the healthcare enterprise.

Online billing and payment continues to grow in popularity, and the ability to integrate one of these systems within your billing cycle is critical. To that end, an integrated patient billing and payment solution offers a comprehensive approach--from the initial patient encounter through final payment. The financial statement works together with this solution to help improve collection performance, reduce costs associated with patient collections, and increase operational efficiency. Providers can capitalize on the growth of online banking and bill pay in conjunction with clear, concise financial statements through an integrated patient billing and payment solution, helping to simplify the revenue cycle and net more self-pay collections. The result:improved financial health for the business.

Evaluate Your Current Process and Make Adjustments

Consumers in every industry have become increasingly savvy, and health care is no different. If your organization is not evaluating and adapting to the shift in your patient population, you will be left behind. So how do you get started? Evaluate current processes throughout your organization from patient access to exceptions:

  • Assess your current billing statement effectiveness.
  • Define areas for improvement within the entire patient encounter.
  • Deploy a multi-level approach for financial communications, improving printed statements and offering convenient billing and payment methods.
  • Employ metrics to measure your success.

A patient-friendly experience begins the moment the patient walks into your healthcare facility.  Do not miss the opportunity to create a favorable, patient-centered experience. By making adjustments to the manner in which your organization interacts with patients, your facility can build a more positive patient experience, ultimately establishing a more cost-effective workflow within the business office.

Clark Conley is the regional vice president for Emdeon's Patient Billing & Payment Solutions division. He has over 10 years of experience in the print and mail industry with emphasis on patient statements. Clark has worked with providers across the country to provide information and best practices in statement design and online billing and payment methods.

Emdeon is the leading provider of integrated patient billing and payment solutions that simplify consumer billing and payment processes for hospitals, physicians, and healthcare providers. Through our innovative suite of print and e-commerce solutions, we facilitate provider-patient communications for optimized revenue collection and enhanced patient satisfaction.
Contact us today at 877.EMDEON.6 (877.363.3666) or visit us online at to find out more.

Publication Date: Thursday, January 01, 2009