Consumers have become more engaged with their healthcare systems as they accept a greater share of the cost for their care. Just as they depend on social media and online reviews to gather and share information about travel, restaurants and shopping, consumers are now sizing up healthcare providers based on their experience throughout the care and billing cycle. Patients have experienced a 29.4 percent increase in deductible and out-of-pocket costs since 2015. This expanded financial responsibility creates higher customer service expectations for their interactions with the system. Patients are more likely to think and act like retail consumers as they “shop” for medical services.
With provider directories in hand, patients are turning to Yelp, Healthgrades, Facebook and their neighborhood networks before they make their first appointment to schedule a procedure. You may think patients are not qualified to judge you as a medical expert, but they are qualified to judge you on how they wish to be treated. Patients expect courtesy, convenience and clear communication at all times.
Technology and Convenience
Recent research shows that 83 percent of providers and healthcare organizations are planning to meet the rise in patient consumerism with technology and practices usually associated with retail settings. This is a smart strategy as time, money and convenience are playing a larger role in how patients evaluate providers, and whether or not they remain loyal.
Electronic tools can help dramatically in making healthcare a user-friendly experience. Ninety-five percent of consumers responding to a recent Black Book survey said they would pay a healthcare provider online if given the option. Patients also appreciate the option to set up recurring automated payment plans at the time of service, especially for large balances.
Smooth Out Your Customer’s Journey
Here are some best practices for maintaining strong relationships with patients while navigating this new patient-as-consumer mindset:
- Understand the changing landscape. Patients are being hit hard by higher deductibles and other medical expenses. While research shows most patients want to pay their bills, they may have more difficulty doing so. Empathy and payment options are key to maintaining your patient relationships while positively impacting your revenue cycle.
- Master eligibility. Checking patient eligibility in real time as the appointment is made or the procedure is scheduled is also key. With the right online application, you can do this quickly and have informed conversations with patients about what is covered by insurance and what they will owe.
- Cultivate transparency. Clear communication and transparency with your patients helps set up manageable expectations for large medical bills. You never want to surprise a patient with high medical costs, if you can avoid it.
- Opt for clarity. Paperwork should be clear and easy to understand. Avoid medical abbreviations and jargon. Instead, explain services and costs in clear, plain language.
- Collect early. Depend on the right tools to make sure the amount a patient owes is accurate, and capture as much of their share as you can at the time of service. The odds of collecting 100 percent of a balance drop significantly once the patient leaves your facility, so offering a variety of flexible payment options will help.
- Be responsive. Give patients an opportunity to ask questions about a bill without fear. Train front office staff to listen to patient concerns before they ask for payment.
- Know where you rank. People prioritize mortgage payments, utilities and phone service over medical bills, so you need to be proactive and diplomatic during payment and collections. Some healthcare organizations have adopted a “credit card on file” system in which the practice makes a monthly charge for an agreed-upon amount to keep payments on track.
- Avoid collection agencies. This has to be the last resort in order to maintain a long-term relationship with the patient. Collection agencies charge a commission of up to 40 percent, so being patient and persistent on your own may be best. As unfair as it may seem, a collection agency’s tactics will reflect on you. An unhappy story about collections can end up on social media as a complaint about YOU, so avoid this option if you can.
Technology Eases the Way
How patients feel about their medical care is only part of how they perceive your organization. Paying attention to other aspects of the patient’s experience during their customer journey is also important. Being able to quickly assure your patients that you accept their health plan before they come in is essential. Offering multiple payment options is another plus. Using technology, communicating clearly and having airtight eligibility and payment processes supports the financial health of your organization and keeps your patients happy.
For more ideas on engaging patients to pay, read our flipbook, Technology and the Satisfied Patient.