How To | Patient Financial Communications

How to ensure a positive patient financial experience

Sponsored by Ontario Systems
How To | Patient Financial Communications

How to ensure a positive patient financial experience

Creating the ideal patient billing experience not only improves revenue cycle performance, but also boosts patient satisfaction and quality scores.

When it comes to improving the patient experience, providers tend to focus on the front-end experience. Whether it’s enhancing point-of-service interactions or clinical touchpoints in the patient journey, these aspects of patient experience are crucial. But they’re not the only ones impacting net promotor scores (NPS) and HCAHPS results.

The billing experience you provide is equally impactful. It’s the final impression you leave with your patients. If the experience is poor, it’s likely to stick — and could prove costly.

Particularly now, with households bearing an ever-increasing burden of healthcare expenses (family premiums averaged $21,342 in 2020, with deductibles rising fast), the importance of the patient financial experience cannot be overstated. Not only does it factor into revenue cycle performance, but it can also have a profound effect on the patient relationship. Giving patients the means to pay their medical bills the way they want to pay them is more important than ever.

The classic one-size-fits-all billing process puts you at a disadvantage today

Historically, healthcare payables have been handled through the mail. A patient might receive multiple paper notices bearing the words “This is not a bill,” after which the provider office prints and mails an invoice so the patient can send a check by mail. This complicated process often results in patients ignoring a legitimate invoice when it comes due.

Most patients want to settle their account, but many don’t understand what they owe or whether they owe anything. According to a 2019 report, 70% of consumers are confused by their medical bills

There seems to be a troubling disconnect between consumer expectations and payment realities in healthcare. Many providers are not seeing the correlation between the patient billing experience and overall patient loyalty and satisfaction. Consumers have overwhelmingly moved to online payments for everything from utility bills to credit cards, but healthcare stubbornly persists with paper statements and offline payment despite the fact that 85% of consumers prefer an electronic payment method for medical bills.

This discrepancy puts patient loyalty in jeopardy. In fact, 56% of patients say they would consider switching providers for a better healthcare payment experience.

It's time for providers to meet patients where they are

Imagine a process focused on making the patient financial experience not just tolerable, but exceptional. Is it possible to create a white-glove billing process? Increasingly, the answer is “yes,” with the help of cutting-edge technologies including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

These technologies are being adopted more widely in healthcare as providers look for new ways to streamline and strengthen the revenue cycle. Provider organizations can now create a personalized billing experience that treats patients as discerning consumers with varying preferences. Organizations that have moved to this patient-focused approach to billing have seen improved willingness to pay, speed of payments, and measurable increases in satisfaction and loyalty as measured by HCAHPS and NPS results.

Imperative #1: Offer patients a variety of ways to settle their accounts

Providing convenient options removes friction from the billing process by making it easy for patients to check balances and pay them using a mobile device, through a website or even by mail — whatever suits the patient on any given day.  

Many patients show a strong preference for e-statements and email communications. While 75% would like to enroll in e-statements from providers, 28% are not given an option to sign up for them. This is a missed opportunity to improve the patient experience and expedite payments.

Patients also show a strong preference for online bill payment, but the solution may not be as simple as giving payment options through an EHR portal. Although 90% of patients will create an EHR portal account, utilization rates remain in the 20%-30% range. Making portal access easier, however, by meeting each patient’s preference for digital communications and providing a mobile access point for portals via text, can greatly improve the billing experience and increase the likelihood of payment.

With high-deductible plans on the rise, patients also are seeking flexible payment plan options. Payment plans extend the benefits of automatic payments to larger balances that patients may not be able to pay all at once and allow organizations to increase collections with minimal staff involvement and fewer resources. Providers determined to offer a great patient billing experience must show a willingness and ability to work with patients to help them pay larger balances easily and in a timely manner.

Imperative #2: Use dynamic account scoring to refine your contact strategies

One of the more exciting developments in patient billing, particularly for providers that want to truly meet patients where they are, is the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to continually improve the timing and means of individual patient outreach. With decision-making that grows smarter over time, this technology can help providers accelerate patient collections while ensuring a positive experience for patients.

Due to patient preferences, for example, a 25-year-old patient might only receive a text “balance due” message initially, and not receive a paper invoice until the balance has aged over 30 days. Meanwhile, a 75-year-old patient might receive a paper statement and email message with a portal link simultaneously on day one. 

Machine learning creates and analyzes personalized consumer profiles by pulling data from disparate data sources, including from third parties. Then it identifies patterns of behavior for every patient, and AI directs staff to create a personalized financial experience for them, whether it is calling in the morning because they work nights, emailing a secure link to a digital statement because they prefer electronic communications, or not contacting them at all because they frequently use the patient portal on their own to pay medical bills. 

By incorporating machine learning and AI into the back-end financial aspect of the patient experience, providers have the opportunity to simultaneously improve their own financial health and the patient experience, allowing all parties to benefit while establishing a more human connection.

It’s never been easier to modernize and humanize patient billing

As the healthcare industry recovers in the aftermath of COVID-19 and patients return to their doctors for healthcare deferred over the past year, now is an ideal time to identify new opportunities to improve the patient financial experience.

Offering a highly personalized experience benefits both the provider and the patient. Providers that suffered financial challenges during the pandemic will see an improved revenue cycle overall, from faster collections to a more efficient billing process. Patient engagement and satisfaction will improve as friction caused by surprise billing and one-size-fits-all collection efforts is eliminated. As with all aspects of healthcare, using a patient-centric approach improves outcomes all around.

Hospitals and health systems across the U.S. are improving revenue cycle efficiency, productivity, and performance with ease — without disrupting their EHR setup and workflows. Click here to learn more.

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