Column | Consumerism

Valuing Patients as Consumers

Column | Consumerism

Valuing Patients as Consumers

February marks National Wise Health Care Consumer Month. HFMA President and CEO Joe Fifer encourages healthcare finance leaders to reflect on what their organizations are doing to help patients and community members feel valued as consumers. 

Until you or your loved one has been a patient, you may not realize how much knowledge you take for granted about navigating the healthcare system.

During my presentations on consumerism, I often ask audiences: “Have you walked through your revenue cycle processes? Not your staff, or someone you delegated to do your homework, but you personally?” I ask the question because I know these processes often aren’t real to healthcare finance leaders until they, or their family members, experience them firsthand. My wife, Katie, lived this experience recently when her elderly mother, who has dementia, suffered several life-threatening medical problems in succession. As a result, Katie was on the receiving end of a crash course in healthcare delivery in a multispecialty environment. Throughout this time, moments of personal connection with caregivers that touched Katie’s heart were balanced against times of utter frustration with the administrative side of health care. “Why doesn’t clinical data go from one provider to another… in the same system? Do these people even read the charts?” Katie asked me at one point, somewhat rhetorically. “Why didn’t they tell me about the way Medicare pays for long-term care, and why wasn’t that factored into our conversation about the right care setting?”

Frustrations like these—some related to caregiver handoffs, others to revenue cycle processes—tend to be the norm in today’s healthcare system. To Katie, a novice in care of the elderly, it felt mysterious and frustrating. She experienced one of our industry’s biggest flaws—fragmented care.

National Wise Health Care Consumer Month is February, a perfect time to reflect on what your organization is doing to help your patients and community members feel valued as consumers. There are two elements to this assessment. One is to evaluate the consumer-friendliness of your revenue cycle processes. When an organization welcomes people’s efforts to make informed decisions based on out-of-pocket cost and quality, rather than just accommodating them, people can tell the difference. That’s where HFMA’s Patient Financial Communications Best Practices come in. Consider joining the hundreds of healthcare organizations that have adopted these best practices in recent years.

The other element is to educate your patients and community members about how to navigate the healthcare system. In other words, share the knowledge that you, as an insider, may take for granted. HFMA has developed two educational resources for consumers—one that walks people through the process of requesting a price estimate, and another that explains how to avoid unexpected balance bills, which are a growing concern for consumers. We encourage healthcare organizations to post HFMA’s educational guides on their websites and incorporate them into pre-procedure communications.

The U.S. healthcare system is far from perfect. We have a long way to go to improve the patient financial experience on a macro level. On an organizational level, improving revenue cycle processes and educating patients and community members mitigates the system’s shortcomings by helping people feel valued as healthcare consumers. Strengthening those relationships will help us build—or rebuild—the mutual trust we need to tackle our system’s long-term challenges together.

About the Authors

Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA,

is President and CEO of HFMA.

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