Three Strategies for Building a More Patient-Friendly Revenue Cycle
As patients assume responsibility for larger portions of their healthcare bills, they are looking to healthcare providers to clearly outline how much they owe and make it easy to pay. In part, this is due to consumers’ high level of financial transparency and convenience in other areas of their life—for instance, when making travel arrangements, paying mortgages and buying big-ticket retail items. In these cases, consumers have clear expectations: the costs are evident, they have many possible payment methods, and these payments can frequently be spread over time.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by the Patient Payment Check-Up™ survey by HIMSS Analytics and Waystar, many healthcare organizations lag behind in their ability to meet these consumer-centric patient financial expectations. The survey, which polled 1,000 patients and 900 healthcare financial leaders about care costs, payment processes and perceptions, showed 85 percent of patient respondents felt the same responsibility for their healthcare bills as they do for other professional services. However, less than 20 percent of patient respondents with commercial insurance found it easy to understand what they owe and make payments.
These statistics reveal an underlying opportunity: healthcare organizations can reimagine the patient financial experience to make it more approachable, engaging and convenient. They have an opportunity to embrace these findings, become more consumer-oriented and further simplifying their revenue cycle. Here are three strategies gleaned from this year’s Patient Payment Check-Up survey to help healthcare organizations build a more patient-friendly revenue cycle.
Be proactive about offering cost estimates. By providing credible cost estimates at pre-service or time of service, the healthcare organization not only provides patients with the information necessary to understand their financial responsibilities, but also enables patients to plan their finances and avoid surprises. In turn, this helps the organization secure payment. Eighty-six percent of patients who received cost estimates noted they understood their payment responsibilities, and nearly 50 percent indicated they would be more likely to pay more of their bill before or during service.
Despite the potential benefits, many organizations do not routinely share cost estimate information. Eighty-seven percent of healthcare providers claimed they can give their patients a cost estimate upon request, yet only 18 percent of patients received one without asking for it. Moreover, less than one-third of patients even knew to ask for an estimate in the first place. This disconnect presents an opportunity for organizations to be more proactive and educational with patient payment conversations. Providers should ask patients if they want an estimate as part of the registration and check-in process. If patients indicate interest in receiving one, organizations should promptly produce an accurate estimate and go over it with the individual to ensure they understand their responsibility and care costs.
Provide a variety of payment options. Offering user-friendly payment options can prompt individuals to pay, especially if mentioned at the time of service when a front-desk staff member provides a cost estimate. According to the survey, the majority of patients prefer to pay their bills using a debit or credit card. In addition, more than 75 percent shared they would be willing to pre-authorize their healthcare providers to charge a credit card number provided at the time of service for charges up to $200. Since a credit card-on-file solution automatically charges patients, it presents a significant opportunity to reduce patient bad debt and days in AR while simplifying the payment experience.
Suggest payment plans. Depending on the amount patients owe, it may be difficult for them to meet their obligations all at once. In these situations, offering a payment plan can be beneficial. Allowing patients to spread payments over a defined period makes it possible for them to pay off balances and avoid instances of bad debt, which can take providers’ precious time, resources and revenue to resolve. Although nearly 50% of providers indicate they offer payment plans, patients are not always given this option. Individuals may hesitate to directly ask for a payment plan, so financial counselors should receive training in how to recognize the signs that someone might need one and how to discuss options with them. Conversations around payment plans require a certain sensitivity, and organizations should commit to giving their staff the necessary tools to navigate these nuances to empower and educate patients. In addition, organizations should consider implementing tools that enable staff to set up payment plans and then step away—no continual manual intervention required. Patients are familiar with automated payments from industries such as utilities, fitness and credit card/banking; in addition to convenience, these automated tools reduce cost to collect.
Consumerism is the new normal
Patients continue to demand more from their providers regarding financial clarity and payment convenience, and this trend shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Organizations that commit to making their revenue cycle processes more streamlined and approachable will evolve and align with this new consumerism. Conversely, providers that do not adapt will get left behind as patients seek healthcare organizations that not only deliver top-notch care but also offer an accessible and consumer-friendly payment experience. By following these tips, healthcare organizations can begin to operationalize practice and processes so they can not only meet but exceed patient financial expectations—and ultimately set themselves up for long-term financial success.