Oct. 29—To address the industrywide call for better communication between patients and healthcare organizations, a blue-ribbon panel of healthcare stakeholders has released "best practices" for improving and standardizing how healthcare organizations communicate with patients about their financial responsibilities.

The new guidelines were released Oct. 28 at an HFMA meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Former U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Donna Shalala, a member of the group that developed the best practices, joined HFMA President and CEO Joseph J. Fifer, CPA, FHFMA, for the announcement. Former HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt led the 12-month process to develop the best practices.

The new guidelines for financial communications with patients—available at hfma.org/communications—were developed by experts across the industry, including patient advocates. Representatives from the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the National Patient Advocate Foundation participated. They were advised by national healthcare policymakers, including former HHS Secretaries Leavitt and Shalala, as well as former Senate Leaders Bill Frist and Tom Daschle and Clinton Administration Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick.

"For many people, healthcare financial interactions can be confusing. Complicated payment structures, dozens of different payers, various government programs, and complicated forms all play a part," Fifer said. "Because patients are increasingly paying more of their healthcare costs out of their own pockets, clear communication between healthcare professionals and patients is becoming more important than ever. For this reason, the financial leaders of healthcare organizations should welcome these best practices."

The practices show patient financial communications in several settings:  before service, in the emergency department, and at other points of care. The best practices call for annual training for point-of-service staff—including patient access, financial counseling ,and consumer service staff—around patient financial communications.

The experts who developed the best practices say the guidelines represent an opportunity for healthcare professionals to be even more patient-centered in their approach to financial communications.

"Intermountain Healthcare is fully supportive of these best practice recommendations," said Bert Zimmerli, executive vice president and CFO, Intermountain Healthcare. "In these very complex areas, they provide clear direction to the nation’s hospitals to assure that patients are treated in the most fair and appropriate manner."

Starting immediately, hospitals, physician practices, surgery centers, and other healthcare organizations have the opportunity to achieve HFMA's “Patient Financial Communications Adopter” recognition, designed for organizations seeking to demonstrate a core commitment to the best practices and who self-identify as adopters. Through the evaluation process, organizations will be able to identify which practices they have implemented and which areas need further work. No onsite review by HFMA staff is involved.

In 2014, HFMA will create a program for Patient Financial Communications Compliance, designed to recognize mastery of the fundamental components of the best practices. Organizations seeking recognition at this level will have implemented a majority of the detailed guidelines and will be verified for compliance by HFMA staff.

Publication Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2013