When my daughter was born 21 years ago, our out-of-pocket cost was $50. Today, a family might spend $5,000 or more. Hundreds of billions of dollars of responsibility has shifted to patients—and providers are struggling to collect. We’ve entered an era in healthcare where a focus on “patient financial engagement” is critical. Patients must take much more responsibility for their healthcare costs, and providers need to offer more financial education to help them.
This is clear to me first and foremost as a patient. I’ve gone to the doctor a lot. From broken bones as a boy to various injuries and ailments as an adult, I’ve experienced healthcare systems multiple times a year. As an entrepreneur, I always think about how things are done and if they could be done better or faster.
In my experience, there’s a disconnected financial conversation across patient touch points that must be addressed. Continuity will help patients resolve their balances, and strengthen the relationship between providers and their patients.
I recently went through a series of physical therapy appointments. When I made the first appointment, the scheduler reminded me to bring my insurance card. Ideally, the financial conversation would have gone deeper, including estimation of out-of-pocket costs to help me prepare for what was to come.
That conversation should continue at the front desk. During the course of my treatment, I was asked for my insurance details every time. The front desk staff is dealing with sick, stressed patients. They should have tools that make it easier to have informed financial conversations. The front desk presents a prime opportunity to collect a balance, establish billing expectations, determine appropriate payment options and sign patients up for online delivery.
No matter how many millions of patient payments we facilitate as a company, I still get surprised when I open my own bill. Like many people, I’ve received a $700 statement that I expected to be $70. Statement balances should never be a surprise and messages about payment options should be tailored to the patient based on expectations set at the front desk. For example, patients who are likely to pay in full could be offered a discount. Patients who need time could be offered a payment plan right away.
When it comes to payments, providers should establish multiple ways for patients to pay, including at least one online option that doesn’t require a login and password. Convenience helps avoid payment delays. Providers should cater to mobile needs, because young people don’t know where their checkbooks are, but they can pay by phone instantly.
A patient’s financial experience can make or break a relationship 30 days or more after a positive medical experience. Building continuity across patient touch points helps educate patients, avoid surprises and better fit payment solutions to the needs of each patient. Done right, healthcare organizations will realize significantly better results to the bottom line. And the patient will have a feeling of “this is my doctor, this is the right place for me” throughout the entire financial process.
Mr. Kueppers has over 20 years of experience working with some of the largest healthcare organizations in the country. Kueppers founded Apex Revenue Technologies in 1995 and remains focused on streamlining and strengthening the patient revenue cycle through innovative cost-saving solutions.