Column | Patient Financial Communications

It’s All Connected

Column | Patient Financial Communications

It’s All Connected

Efforts to improve the patient financial experience should not be undertaken in isolation. HFMA President and CEO Joe Fifer explains why.

For consumers, the financial and clinical experience are two sides of the same coin.

With the increased attention to price trans- parency in recent years, healthcare leaders now realize the patient financial experience has been under-appreciated as a source of patient satisfaction—or dissatisfaction, as the case may be. That means finance leaders have a lot of catch-up work to do. But that work must not be done in isolation. We need to elevate and integrate the financial experience at the same time.

A new study published by the Beryl Institute, a global community dedicated to improving the patient experience, supports that approach. The report, Consumer Perspectives on Patient Experience 2018, concludes that the healthcare experience is an integrated framework of what consumers encounter in quality, safety, service, and cost. Considering any one element in isolation runs counter to achieving excellence in experience overall. It’s understandable that those who work in finance, nursing, or any other functional area tend to focus on their respective functions. But we all should understand that consumers see all of these areas as part of one singular experience.

Across the care continuum, the financial and clinical experiences are intertwined. Recognizing that, HFMA’s best practices for patient financial communications offer guidance for financial interactions specific to various care settings and situations. Finance leaders can build on the foundation those best practices provide to further integrate the financial and clinical domains, and create a more seamless experience for patients.

First, work with clinicians to ensure they can address financial issues with patients, when appropriate. That doesn’t mean physicians need to know the ins and outs of pricing or insurance contracts. Yousuf Zafar, MD, MHS, a medical oncologist at the Duke Cancer Institute, who coined the term “financial toxicity” related to patients undergoing cancer treatment, writes: “One easy thing for a provider to do is to ask very simply, ‘Are you able to afford this treatment?’ For patients who say no, we can refer them to financial counselors, or social workers or pharmacists to get them resources in a timely fashion.” When patients experience this kind of teamwork, it helps ensure financial obstacles are identified, and equally important, it builds trust.

Second, as your organization works to improve the financial experience, get input from both clinicians and patients. Find out where the pain points are, especially those that occur during care transitions and other times when clinical and financial experiences intersect. I look forward to talking with Beryl Institute Vice President, Learning & Professional Development Deanna Frings at HFMA’s Revenue Cycle Conference in late October about this and other aspects of improving the patient financial experience.

In its recent report 2018 State of Consumerism in Healthcare: Activity in Search of Strategy, the consulting firm Kaufman Hall concludes that, of all the key areas related to healthcare consumerism, pricing strategy and price transparency provide the most room for improvement. The challenge we face, as an industry, is to catch up while avoiding shortcuts that would shut patients and nonfinance colleagues out of the improvement process. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to say, “Be quick but don’t hurry.”

About the Authors

Joseph J. Fifer

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