Patient Experience

A Closer Look at Effective Early-Out Strategies

March 17, 2017 11:46 am

Embracing a new approach to patient billing and collection.

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Most private practices, hospitals, and health systems want to focus their time and resources on providing quality patient care, rather than chasing payments from their patients. Therefore, many opt to engage early-out collection vendors that reach out to patients after accounts have aged 30 days or more. These vendors are trained to be more engaging and sensitive to patients’ financial situations than traditional collections groups, which can often come across as aggressive and even impact consumer credit ratings.

Although partnering with third parties may allow healthcare providers to return focus to their patient care goals, it often also means they pay a percentage of collected revenues to vendors. Moreover, it means losing control of patient communications regarding financial matters. If patients have negative experiences with early-out or collections vendors, it may influence not only patients’ financial experiences, but it will color their overall experience with providers, regardless of the quality of care received.

As healthcare providers become more dependent on patient payments because of increasing deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, and other rising costs, they will need to rethink their strategies to improve collections and save costs. With the tools and resources available today, providers can more efficiently manage patient collections in-house and lower the cost to collect. 

A New Approach to Patient Billing and Collections

According to a McKinsey report, 53 percent of patients are willing to make their payments if they understand what is owed. Further gains can be achieved if providers offer convenient times and channels through which to pay. In other words, today’s patients are more likely to pay their bills if they can make payments how they want, when they want.

This is a trend other industries, including retail and entertainment, have already discovered. For example, credit card companies send out text reminders with click-to-pay links when bills are due. This makes it easier and more convenient for their customers to pay bills on time, from their mobile devices, in just a few clicks. Similarly, Fandango, Apple, and other online entertainment venues allow consumers to purchase tickets or download movies or music online.

Healthcare providers have a tremendous opportunity to harness digital channels and tailor experiences to patients’ wants and needs to improve billing and collections. By using their own controlled, convenient payment channels and personalized communication solutions, healthcare providers can save costs, and retain more of the dollars that would have been paid out to early-out vendors―while collecting payments and creating new opportunities to engage patients.

Although it may be ideal to have financial conversations as early as possible with patients and collect payments up front, prior to or at the time of service, this is not always possible. Practitioners, hospitals, and health systems can encourage patients to make payments by considering some of these strategies:

Discounts. Offer discounts for payments made within the first 30 days. Receiving even a small break can motivate people to pay their bills sooner.

Payment plans. Provide no-interest payment plans that patients can set up themselves—either online or through a call center. Offering this service prior to, or at the time of care can relieve patients’ anxiety when they otherwise might worry about how they will pay their bills.

Price transparency. Ensure patients understand how much they owe and the channels through which they can make payments, and encourage them to ask questions and request additional information or help when needed. Account and balance information can be made accessible, securely and privately, through online accounts, mobile-friendly apps, patient portals, interactive voice response systems, or call centers, so patients never have to search for answers.

Multiple payment channels. Provide multiple convenient ways for patients to pay, including click-to-pay, online payment tools, digital wallets, automated and interactive voice response systems, and other channels that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These tools should be intuitive to use, making transactions seamless and easy. Because multiple payment channels are prevalent in other sectors, patients have come to expect them and are surprised (maybe even annoyed) when these types of options are not available.

Personalized communication. Engage patients early and communicate often in ways that resonate with them, so that patient outreach is customized rather than forced into a one-size-fits-all model. Patients are typically more responsive and likely to pay on time when healthcare providers use personalized communication methods, and a good experience with billing and payments can translate into higher patient satisfaction scores overall.

Adopting strategies like these not only can help improve collections, they can change patient–provider dynamics by nurturing relationships, building trust and facilitating more effective communications with today’s healthcare consumers.

Collect More, Build Rapport

In today’s consumer-driven healthcare environment, patient engagement and satisfaction are vital to attracting and keeping new patients. Providers continue to look for ways to minimize costs while focusing on what they care most about—the health of their patients.

Healthcare is catching up with other industries when thinking about patients as consumers and how to improve customer experience. Emerging alternatives to traditional billing and collections practices can help providers improve collections, while also building stronger relationships with patients.

By working with trusted solutions partners and advisors, providers can design new ways to positively engage patients, change patient–provider dynamics, collect more payments earlier in the revenue cycle, reduce costs, and create more satisfactory experiences overall.

Linda Glidewell is vice president, Consumer Solutions, Change Healthcare, and a member of HFMA’s Lone Star Chapter.


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