Although the transition to a new, post-COVID-19 normal is underway, health systems and physician organizations still have a long way to go to regain financial strength. The same can be said for the 7.7 million workers who lost their employer-sponsored insurance over the past year. The good news is that there is a way to make the journey less painful for both.
Managing self-pay revenue and the patient experience was already challenging before the pandemic, but it is likely to become even more so as families try to get back on their feet. Providers can help by removing barriers that make it difficult for patients to pay. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to do just that.
Make the patient access process more friendly and effective. Your patient access process sets the stage for the entire patient encounter and it’s a great opportunity for health systems and physician organizations to align themselves as advocates for their patients. For example, giving patients an estimate of what they’ll owe up front allows you to have a more informed financial conversation and enables patients to make more knowledgeable decisions about their healthcare. It also positions you as advocates for your patients versus adversaries just looking to collect.
Even before the pandemic, 40% of Americans said they would have trouble paying a $400 unexpected emergency expense.
Help patients in need find financial assistance. Aggressive collection tactics—especially when used with patients who don’t have the means to pay—rarely result in collecting full payment. Those tactics can also damage the patient-provider relations and, even worse, cause patients to delay or skip much needed care. Propensity-to-pay analytics can help health systems and physician organizations gain a clear picture of a patient’s financial situation—a situation that is fluid and often changes over time as we’ve seen with the pandemic. With that insight, you’ll be better able to identify the most appropriate financial assistance options as needed. Additionally, patient account representatives should guide patients through the application process, which can be challenging to navigate. Assisting patients through-out this process will enhance the patient experience and can improve patient satisfaction ratings and brand reputation.
Make paying more convenient. More than 75% of consumers now use some type of digital payment solution to pay their bills. This includes Millennials (91%), Gen Xers (80%), and Baby Boomers (64%). Patients appreciate having multiple payment options as it allows them to pay when, where, and how it is most convenient for them. Other options should include online payment portals where patients can store credit card information for future payments or to self-select a payment plan. It is important, though, to continue offering traditional payment options such as interactive voice response via phone calls, through the mail, or over the phone with a patient resolution specialist.
Offer flexible payment plans. Health systems and physician organizations should opt for customizable plans based on each patient’s unique financial situation rather that one-size-fits-all. Using insight into the patient’s financial situation, making easy to auto-schedule payments, and giving multiple types of payment tools increases the chance that payment plans are paid.
Rethink your billing statements. Medical bills are notorious for being confusing. Providers can help remove this confusion by reviewing their billing statement to make them more patient friendly. The best designed statements are those that provide clear language over acronyms, and that use revenue code summary reports that are easy for patients to comprehend. Statements should also include information about how a patient can pay online or sign up for digital statements.
Consider outsourcing. Times are challenging for both providers and their patients. Revenue cycle processes that worked two years ago may not be as effective today. In times like these, it may make more sense to outsource some parts of the revenue cycle. Partnering with revenue cycle experts can often bring greater financial benefits while removing the burden from the health system. Health systems and physician practices can avoid having to buy expensive technology, add resources, or reallocate IT staff to manage extensive implementations. Choosing the right partner, however, is essential to achieving an optimal return on investment. The right partner can help providers develop a self-pay resolution program that fits their needs both now and into the future. The right partner can also help identify gaps in the patient financial journey and then provide the tools and expertise needed to optimize the entire process.
The bottom line
Difficult times often highlight weaknesses within systems and processes, but they also highlight opportunities for making long-term systemic improvements. More forward-thinking health systems and physician organizations understand the benefit of leveraging these opportunities. By implementing more patient-centric revenue cycle processes, providers can not only mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic, but they can also position themselves for even greater success in the future.