Insights from Forum sponsor CarePayment

Engaging new healthcare consumers financially is an important first step to engaging them clinically, which is central to providers’ efforts to lower costs and improve outcomes through population health management and related initiatives.

Relatively few providers are currently equipped to discuss and arrange financial services and payment options upfront with every patient. They also must overcome the hurdle of long-standing payment behavior. Conditioned to wait to find out their financial obligation when medical bills arrive months after treatment and insurance pays its share, patients are often caught off-guard if asked to make financial arrangements beyond meeting their copays, especially as many feel ill or stressed about their health.

In a recent whitepaper, we offer a 10-step workflow to enable healthcare organizations of all sizes to successfully update their revenue cycle to financially engage patients in compassionate and practical ways.

The first three steps in this workflow revolve around improved communication with patients:

Step 1: Promote financial programs pre-service. When it comes to healthcare marketing, providers generally focus on promoting clinical expertise, rankings on “best” lists and amenities. They should add financial services to their outreach efforts. As consumers increasingly shop for medical care, they are choosing hospitals, physician groups, and other healthcare providers at least in part on how they handle patient financial matters.

From prominent website placement, media coverage and advertising to facility banners, posters, brochures and other marketing materials, promoting patient financial services is a highly visible declaration that a provider cares about patients’ physical and financial health. It clarifies for both parties the expectations surrounding payment, offering patients peace of mind about how they are going to pay and reducing the providers’ time and effort spent trying to collect unpaid patient balances.

Step 2: Connect in multiple ways. Consumers like to communicate in different ways, from in person and text to email and phone. Reaching out in a variety of ways gives patients convenient choices for interacting with providers, eliminating missed opportunities to provide the financial help they need to receive treatment. Once a consumer makes clear their favored method or methods of communication, providers can build stronger ties to patients by personalizing their communications to cater to those preferences. Some of the steps revenue cycle and patient access staff can take to facilitate alternative communication options for patients is to evaluate and update intake documents to include requests for email addresses, communication preferences and consent. By capturing this information up-front, providers can offer more convenience to patients and can employ more cost effective means to conduct outreach. For example, autodialing or texting cell phones would be compliant with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act regulations throughout the revenue cycle if a patient’s express consent for these practices can be gathered during the admission process.

Step 3: Estimate patient balances. Not knowing how much care is going to cost can add more tension and uncertainty to an already stressful situation for many patients. Giving patients a reasonably accurate idea of their obligation allows them to make informed, confident decisions about their care and payment options. Accurate balance estimation entails integration of real time verification of benefits and managed care contract pricing as well as additional training for patient access staff.

Access our whitepaper for the entire 10-step workflow. The steps are grouped into the progressive sequences of communicate, navigate and capture. Together, they offer a roadmap for discussing what patients need and want to know about their medical costs and payment options and helps providers help patients make financial decisions. As a result of providing the right information at the right time and a better financial experience for patients, providers then earn their loyalty and increase their satisfaction.

Nicole Miller is vice president, product management, Careayment, Lake Oswego, Ore.

Publication Date: Wednesday, April 15, 2015