The ROI of Investing in Patient Financial Care
Not many people are used to using the words healthcare bills and customer experience in the same sentence, unless they mention a confusing experience. While that may have been tolerated in the past, it has become a major issue as providers begin to take cues from the likes of Amazon on how to deliver a much simpler financial care experience.
But why invest? Mostly because the patient financial care experience is part of the overall patient care experience, and as patients pay more out-of-pocket, they’re beginning to treat healthcare like any other service in their consumer world. And in the consumer world, customer satisfaction with their experience drives customer loyalty, revenues, and long term profitability for a company more than any other factor.
Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in Minnesota takes patient satisfaction seriously. “Our mission is to provide incredible care to our patients, so that they can always count on HCMC as a place that they feel safe and respected,” says Nio Queiro, Vice President of Revenue Cycle. Queiro’s comprehensive definition of “care” includes patient financial care.
Queiro and Greg Mavragnis, director of patient access at Lancaster General Hospital in Pennsylvania were panelists in an HFMA webinar on April 11, Motivations and Impact of Investing in Patient Financial Care Initiatives. Both organizations turned a critical eye to their consumer-unfriendly billing processes and found new solutions to improve the patient experience.
“In healthcare, you think of clinical care as the number one thing,” says Mavraganis, “and some of the administrative processes and operations are maybe an afterthought. I think we were deficient on that side.” During the webinar, one of the surveys found that 60% of patients are confused by their bills. That would be unnacceptable in our lives as consumers.
At HCMC, even Queiro’s highly educated husband found the organization’s online payment process challenging. “If people with advanced degrees can’t get through our system, how are we supporting the grandmother, the young mother, the kid that is trying to pay online?” she says. “We had to make a change.”
The pressure to remain financially viable in today’s environment is more intense than ever. All hospitals are weighing the impact of proposed policy changes that could shrink the number of patients covered under Medicaid. As a safety net hospital, HCMC is potentially even more exposed.
HCMC revamped its patient billing processes to make it easy for patients to understand bills and make online payments, or set up payment plans. The results are happier patients, as well as dramatically improved collections. “Our collection rate has actually doubled from the same time last year,” says Queiro.
But first HCMC had to overcome some operational hurdles. HCMC partnered with Simplee, a payment solution provider, and consolidated billing from two separate instances of Epic, one for hospital billing, the other for professional billing. “[Simplee] came in with knowledge of Epic and we were able to make it cohesive.” says Queiro, “So even though we are a little bit different than a lot of Epic shops, we were able to implement fairly quickly and timely, and met our deadline.”
Queiro’s one regret is that HCMC didn’t do a bigger promotional push to let patients know about the new capabilities. “I think it was a lost opportunity,” she says. “I think we would have done better in our percentage of adoption if we had done a ‘big bang.’”
Mavraganis’s approach is a little more cautious. “Maybe you just want to do a soft opening and have a few people who naturally find it, and then you can understand the problems or any bugs with a smaller population,” he says. “I think there are advantages both ways.”
HCMC has seen a dramatic uptake in online payments in just one quarter. Lancaster General has been working with Simplee for several years and continues to see steady growth in self-service payments, payment plans and monthly collections.
Mavraganis has also observed that the number of calls to customer service has plummeted, and service levels have improved. “Our staff has seen a decrease in call volume, which has actually made them a little happier and increased their ability to answer calls more quickly,” he says. And when employees are happy, they can make patients happy. “We’ve seen at least an improvement there both in terms of the service level we can provide to the callers calling in as well as our own employees that are able to provide better service to patients, so they’re happier with the job that they’re doing, too.”
Both organizations have plans to expand and evolve their payment processes. HCMC solicits feedback from a patient experience group comprised of 10 patients who meet monthly with representatives from finance and administration. “They are so excited about pushing out the technology so that they can pay on their [mobile] phones,” says Queiro.
Lancaster General is currently using Simplee’s pricing transparency tools that allow patients to get estimates on certain procedures based on their insurance coverage. Mavraganis is exploring the possibility of proactively sending estimates to patients, and helping them plan for medical expenses beforehand instead of after the fact.
“We know or can estimate what’s going to happen with the patient’s charges and what they’re going to owe,” he says. “We have some level of knowledge about the patient’s ability to pay or their propensity to pay. If we can marry those together and bring in financial counselors earlier, then I think that’s going to really help the patient.”
As high-deductible health plans continue to grow, and consumers pay even more out-of-pocket, the importance of patient financial care, and the overall patient experience will grow as well. Provider organizations can either continue to operate as-is, or take cues from leading consumer companies and early innovators like HCMC and Lancaster General. As we’ve seen in these two examples, organizations that focus on the patient financial care experience can deliver a better experience that increases patient satisfaction and collections, at a lower cost, in this new world of healthcare.
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