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In less than two years, an estimated 32 million newly insured Americans-some of whom have never had health coverage-are expected to start showing up at hospitals and physician offices, eager to get checkups, preventive care, and medical attention for long-ignored health problems.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will provide these people with access to coverage through individual and employer mandates, regional and state health insurance exchanges, and an expansion of Medicaid eligibility. However, the law will not educate these patients on how to navigate the complex healthcare system.
Healthcare finance leaders can take lessons from the health insurance industry, which has been focusing on improving patient health literacy for the past several years. Health literacy experts at Aetna believe that effective communication with patients cannot be accomplished solely by redesigning billing statements and form letters. It requires an organizationwide commitment to helping patients understand the information they need to make the best decisions about their health.
Hospital leaders may want to consider emulating Aetna's three-pronged approach to improving health literacy. The insurer has adopted the three key communication strategies recommended by the national trade association, America's Health Insurance Plans:
"Many individuals with low health literacy will face significant challenges understanding what coverage they are eligible for under the ACA, making informed choices about the best options for themselves and their families, and completing the enrollment process," states the Institute of Medicine in its recent report, Health Literacy Implications for Healthcare Reform: Workshop Summary.
Serving this influx of new patients will make patient-friendly financial communications more important than ever. It comes down to fixing the disconnect between the healthcare industry and the patients it serves, says Brian Berkenstock, Aetna's director of content services for digital media strategy and communications. For example, many consumers do not use the term "provider" the same way healthcare insiders do.
"We found that people were confused. They were saying, 'Wait a minute, you're Aetna. Aren't you my health insurance provider?'" he says. "So that common industry terminology, which we use to mean 'doctors,' 'specialists,' and 'hospitals,' is lost on people who don't understand-and shouldn't have to understand-the words we use internally."
Aetna emphasizes that staff use "doctor," "healthcare professional," or "facility" instead of "provider" in written and oral communications, according to Berkenstock.
Aetna's intranet includes "jargon alerts" that advise staff not to use terms that the public may not understand. For example, the term "noncompliant" is considered jargon. "We are trying to weed that out," says Berkenstock. "Instead, use 'not following the treatment plan' or 'not taking the prescribed drugs.'"
Access tool: Jargon Alert Words
Aetna has implemented the following three patient-friendly communications approaches.
Building a patient-friendly communications culture. In 2009, Aetna rolled out a multifaceted campaign to its 30,000 employees to build awareness of the consequences of poor health literacy. The campaign included articles about health literacy that were posted on Aetna's intranet, posters, a newsletter, and an online employee quiz.
Access tool: Sample Aetna Employee Health Literacy Quiz Question
Aetna's internal campaign has now grown to include communication skills training, document assessments to weed out jargon and ensure readability, and constant reinforcement about the importance of communicating effectively with members.
"It has been an awareness-building project over the past several years, so all of our employees are aware of it now," says Vicki Lankarge, a communications marketing manager at Aetna.
Setting standards for written communications. An editorial review board is tasked to improve the simplicity and consistency of language used by Aetna employees. The board includes writers and editors, as well as staff members who work directly with consumers and can identify common communication issues.
Aetna developed a template for form letters to help people throughout the company communicate more effectively with consumers. "The folks who produce letters are experts about our products, but often don't have a formal writing background," says Berkenstock. "The template helps them know that this kind of information goes in this part of the letter, that kind of information goes here, and so forth."
The insurer also recently redesigned its explanation of benefits statement. A redesign team used the following guidelines to create an easy-to-read document for consumers:
Access tool: Sample Aetna Explanation of Benefits Statement
Focus groups made up of health plan members are used to evaluate some of the written materials Aetna sends out each year. "We use their feedback to improve the written pieces for the following year," he says. "We ask members to tell us their meanings of certain words and phrases, such as copay. This helps us confirm if we got the message across."
Providing communication skills training. The use of plain language-defined by the Center for Plain Language as language you can find, understand, and use-has become part of the insurer's corporate culture. A section on plain language is included in Aetna's business conduct and integrity course that employees take each year.
Employees also have the opportunity to take additional training programs. For instance, Aetna offers a writer's training course for any employee who communicates with members.
Access tool: Basic Patient-Friendly Writing Principles
In addition, employees who interact with members in person or by phone receive training on interviewing techniques that can help them gauge whether consumers comprehend the information that is provided. During this course, staff are taught to ask open-ended versus "yes" or "no" questions. For instance, the question, "Can you tell me what you will need to pay when you have a doctor's visit?" is likely to garner more information about a consumers' understanding than "Do you understand?"
Frontline staff members are also trained in teach-back techniques, a method used by providers to encourage patients and families to say back health instructions using their own words. "The nurses and customer service representatives try to use a conversational tone and plain language to help the caller," says Berkenstock. "It really goes a long way."
Lankarge and Berkenstock have seen a cultural shift occur at Aetna. "Five years ago, no one mentioned 'plain language' in project meetings," says Lankarge. "Now, for any initiative that is going on, someone either invites one of the plain language specialists to participate in a meeting or plain language is included in our discussions in some way."
One key to creating a culture that values effective patient communications is identifying staff members who have the needed desire and skills and empowering them to take action. "It's finding the people who have the passion and the expertise in your organization to drive it forward, who are really committed to working on behalf of the consumer, and who are really committed to patient-friendly communication," says Lankarge.
Lola Butcher is a freelance writer and editor based in Missouri.
Interviewed for this article:
Vicki Lankarge is communications marketing manager, Aetna, Hartford, Conn.
Brian Berkenstock is director of content services for digital media strategy and communications, Aetna, Hartford, Conn.
Publication Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012
In this Business Profile, Shawn Yates, director of healthcare product management at Ontario Systems, discusses the growing challenge of managing self-pay accounts and provides insight on how providers can successfully collect patient payments.
In this business profile, Cathy Smith, leader of the revenue transformation consulting practice at The Claro Group discusses how the organization helps hospitals and medical groups reimagine their revenue cycle.
In this business profile, Deloitte & Touche LLP executives Anne Phelps, principal and U.S. healthcare regulatory leader, and Daniel Esquibel, senior manager, explain ways health systems, health plans, and physician practices can prepare for MACRA.
In this Business Profile, Bruce Haupt, president and CEO of ClearBalance, discusses how a patient loan program can increase patient collections, reduce bad debt, and speed cash flow.
In this Business Profile, Jerry Bruno, principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, discusses the importance of choosing revenue cycle solutions that help an organization meet the challenges of a quickly evolving healthcare environment.
In this business profile, Lane Jackson, a partner in the Grant Thornton LLP Health Care Advisory Services practice, with extensive experience in overseeing system implementations and revenue cycle reorganizations, discusses best practices for elevating revenue cycle performance during an EMR implementation. Grant Thornton LLP is a sponsor of the Large System Controllers Council Affinity Group.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the ICD10 deadline quickly approaching and daily responsibilities not slowing down, final preparations for October 1 require strategic prioritization and laser focus.
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.
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.
Announcements from several commercial payers and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) early in 2015 around increased efforts to form value-based contracts with providers seemed to point to an impending rise in risk-based contracting. Rather than wait for disruption from the outside in, health care providers are now making inroads on collaborating with payers on various risk-based contracting models to increase the value of health care from within.
Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC) is a not-for-profit hospital serving a population of roughly 200,000 in Yuma and the surrounding communities.
Before becoming a ZirMed client, Yuma was attempting to manually monitor hundreds of thousands of charges which led to significant charge capture leakage. Learn how Yuma & ZirMed worked together to address underlying collections issues at the front end, thus increasing Yuma’s overall bottom line.
Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services works with partners to audit the market and the facility’s role in that market to identify opportunities for improvement. This approach leads to successes; Kindred’s clinical rehab and management expertise complements our partners’ strengths. Every facility and challenge is unique, and requires a full objective analysis.
As the critical link between patient care and reimbursement, health information enables more complete and accurate revenue capture. This 5-Minute White Paper Briefing shares how to achieve cost-effective revenue integrity by your optimizing HIM systems.
Speedier cash flow starts with better CDI and coding. This 5-Minute White Paper Briefing explains how providers can improve vital measures of technical and business performance to accelerate cash flow.
Qualified coders are getting harder to come by, and even the most seasoned professional can struggle with the complexity of ICD-10. This 5-Minute White Paper Briefing explains how partnerships can help improve coding and other key RCM operations potentially at a cost savings.
The point of managing your revenue cycle isn’t just to improve revenue and cash flow. It’s to do those things effectively by consistently following best practices— while spending as little time, money, and energy on them as possible.
How Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford increased payments received within 45 days by 20% and reduced paper submission claims by 70% by using ZirMed solutions.
The reasons claims are denied are so varied that managing denials can feel like chasing a thousand different tails. This situation is not surprising given that a hypothetical denial rate of just 5 percent translates to tens of thousands of denied claims per year for large hospitals—where real‐world denial rates often range from 12 to 22 percent. Read about how predictive modeling can detect meaningful correlations across claims denials data.
Emergency Mobile Health Care (EMHC) was founded to be and remains an exclusively locally owned and operated emergency medical service organization; today EMHC serves a population of more than a million people in and around Memphis, answering 75,000 calls each year.
Since the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative (PQRI) introduction, CMS has paid more than $100 million in bonus payments to participants. However, these bonuses ended in 2015; providers who successfully meet the reporting requirements in 2016 will avoid the 2% negative payment adjustment in 2018, so now is the time to act! Included in this whitepaper are implications of increasing patient responsibility, collections best practices, and collections and internal control solutions.
Getting paid what your physician deserves—that’s the goal of every biller. Yet even for the best billers, achieving that success can be elusive when denials stand in the way of success, presenting challenges at every turn. Denials aren’t going away, but you can learn techniques to manage and even prevent them.Join practice management expert Elizabeth W. Woodcock, MBA, FACMPE, CPC, to: Discover methods to translate denial data into business intelligence to improve your bottom line, determine staff productivity benchmarks for billers, and recognize common mistakes in denial management.
Physician practices must improve organizational efficiency to compete in this era of reduced reimbursement and escalating administrative costs.
Many healthcare organizations are pursuing next-generation health information systems solutions. Learn more about Navigant's work with University of Michigan Health System.
The proper implementation of healthcare information technology systems is crucial to an organization’s financial health.
HFMA offers online, email, and print opportunities to help you recruit the most talented healthcare finance professionals. Place your classified ads today.
Drive down costs while improving quality in a reform environment.
Receive expert insights and how-to action to achieve and maintain peak revenue cycle performance.
Access expert insights on financial forecasting/planning, strategic partnerships, capital allocation, and more.
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