What tools does your billing staff need to provide customer-focused financial service? A good patient brochure would help a lot, according to participants who attended PATIENT FRIENDLY BILLING® workshops in 2003 and 2004. During these sessions, held during the Spring 2004 Revenue Cycle Workshops in Alexandria, Va., and at a series of workshops hosted by the Tennessee Chapter of HFMA in the fall of 2003, participants worked on tools that they believed would help them perform their jobs in a more patient-focused manner.

The goal of a patient financial information brochure is to explain the patient's financial obligations for healthcare services; how to apply for charity care, Medicaid, or other financial assistance; the provider's process for billing the insurance company and the patient; and how to contact the hospital for assistance. The brochures don't need to be slick or expensive-it's more important that the text is easy to read and understand and has a friendly, approachable tone.

Participants' comments, summarized below, are instructive for other patient financial services departments who wish to develop a brochure.

Information to Include

A patient financial information brochure can be an effective way to deliver a consistent message about a hospital's billing and collection policies, as well as a way to set patient expectations about the financial process. While such a brochure can be used during the registration process, it can also be distributed at physicians' offices, in patient rooms, in lobbies, and on the provider's web site. Useful information to put in this brochure includes:

    * What to expect at the time of registration, such as an explanation of the financial process (including possible post-encounter bills), the setting up of payment arrangements, and the collection of up-front copayments or self-pay installments;
    * Business office hours and contact information for the billing staff, including office location, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and the hospital web site address;
    * An example of a bill with an explanation and identification of the bill's components (see an example in the Patient Friendly Billing Summer 2003 Report); and
    * A description of available financial assistance or charity care programs and the eligibility criteria for these programs.

Key Messages

There are certain important points that most facilities want to make in their patient communications, especially during the pre-encounter process. Here are examples of some points the workshop participants listed that can be modified to suit your facility's style and requirements:

    * Deductibles, copayments, and a downpayment or installment (in the case of self-pay patients) are due at time of service.
    * We can help you apply for Medicaid or other financial aid; there are eligibility requirements for these programs.
    * We will bill your insurance company; claims processing usually takes 30-45 days. After that time, you could receive a bill for any balance that is not covered by your insurance.
    * We ask to copy your insurance card each visit to ensure we have your most current information when we bill your insurer.
    * Other entities who provide services during your stay -- such as the lab or the physician -- will send you a bill separately from the hospital.

Special Information Needs

In addition to a general brochure, workshop participants suggested it would be useful to have separate brochures for patients with specific information needs. For example:

    * Type of coverage such as Medicare, Medicaid, commercial, or self-pay;
    * Predominant languages in the community such as Spanish or Korean;
    * Encounter stages such as admission or accompanying a bill; or
    * Type of service -- especially for the emergency room.

Internal Distribution

To ensure patients get a consistent message throughout their episode of care, it's important for all employees who have direct contact with patients to have a general understanding of the facility's billing process and how patients can get their questions answered. Your patient financial information brochures are a good starting point for this orientation process. At a minimum, employees should get copies of the brochures that the patients get, along with a clear message that the hospital wants to make the financial process easier for patients.

PATIENT FRIENDLY BILLING Project participants are working to develop tools that incorporate the input from these work groups. In the meantime, healthcare providers seeking to improve their customers' satisfaction with financial communications can use these insights as guidance to enhance their own materials.



The PATIENT FRIENDLY BILLING Project, a nationwide initiative lead by HFMA to make financial communications to patients clear, concise, and correct.

Additional Resources from the PATIENT FRIENDLY BILLING Web Site:

    * Examples of patient financial information brochures
    * PATIENT FRIENDLY BILLING communication examples -- hospital letter and bill and medical group practice bill
    * Glossary of billing terms
    * Support the PATIENT FRIENDLY BILLING Project


If you have questions or comments about HFMA Wants You to Know, contact editor Maxine Harrison.

HFMA Wants You to Know ISSN: 1540-0697. Volume III, Issue 13. Copyright 2004, Healthcare Financial Management Association. All rights reserved.


Publication Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2004