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According to our research, patients prefer summaries with highlights of their financial responsibility accompanied by pages that detail the care delivered by the provider.

It wasn’t that long ago when third-party payments were the dominant force in the way healthcare providers were paid. Things have changed at a rapid pace, and we’re now well into the new norm of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). With 44 percent of employers reporting in PwC’s 2013 Touchstone survey that they are likely to only offer HDHPs in 2014, patients will continue to bear more responsibility for the payment of their care. 

That means providers need to work smarter, not harder, to collect those patient payments to stay afloat. While there are many ways to reduce bad debt, such as making follow-up calls to patients with past-due balances, one efficient and economical approach is to simply send a more readable bill. If patients are confused about their statements, they’re more likely to pick up the phone with questions than pick up their checkbook to pay the bill. 

Patient Insights Essential to Improving Billing Statements

In several focus groups conducted earlier this year, patients participating in three fully blinded sessions across a range of demographics shared their feedback. The goal was to determine what does and does not work in patient statements and use this research to improve statement design. Patients shared the following feedback. 

Billing statements affect patient opinions and satisfaction. In each group, one or more participants stated that they believed insurance providers’ information about care encounters to be more reliable than information from their healthcare providers. The patients expressed frustration when hospitals send bills that are unclear, and they reported concerns about discrepancies between statements and explanation-of-benefit documents, noting that mismatched information generates the need for calls and inquiries to gain clarification. 

Details are important to patients. The focus groups revealed that simplicity of information in billing statements does not equate to the exclusion of details. Participants resoundingly stated that they need billing details that are presented in a simple fashion and stated clearly. If they don’t have the itemization of services or other details, they wait to receive all the information they require before making payment. Many participants said they clarified their charges by calling their provider. 

The core strategy revealed through the study is to “focus on clarity of information.” Clarity is not the exclusion of details, but rather it is the clear, concise, and logical conveyance of complete information. 

Well-designed statement summaries can be effective tools. After reviewing a series of statements intentionally designed to improve clarity of information, participants responded with top-of-mind thoughts. These reactions were dramatically more positive in comparison to cluttered statements that were only printed in black and white.

Provide a summary page and itemized details. Patients responded positively to billing statements that provided both summary pages and itemized details. Effective summary pages highlight the key points: amount owed, date due, and where/how to send payment. Account detail pages offer descriptive line items to document all aspects of care, serving as useful explanation of the account summary page.

The Billing Process Can Enhance Patient Satisfaction 

As patients take on more of the financial responsibility for their healthcare expenses, revenue cycle leaders can make the payment process easier for patients by providing clearly defined statements and summary pages. Removing barriers to understanding hospital financial communications improves patients’ overall opinion of the provider and enhances patient satisfaction. 

Emdeon assists providers in creating clear, concise patient statements that result in effective patient communications.

Publication Date: Monday, November 18, 2013