3 Statements About the Patient Debunked

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At HFMA’s Southern California chapter meeting on July 12th, industry leaders dove into challenges their health systems are facing and shared strategies they are putting into place to overcome them. All experiences were shared in an educational spirit and were well received.

During the one-day program, VisitPay helped orchestrate a panel that focused on “The Patient as payer: Innovations in Customer Experience and Consumer Finance” a complicated dynamic for health systems to navigate today. Kelly Howard, PFS Director from R1/Intermountain, Regina Berman, VP Population Health from MemorialCare, Mel Eisele, VP Revenue Cycle from Loma Linda University, and Ken Baxter, VP Revenue Cycle from CHOC Children’s shared on the topic.

The discussion surfaced three false beliefs about the patient and modeled the shift in healthcare we are seeing today.

1. Patients don’t want to pay their medical bills

Many believe that patients don’t want to pay their bill. Years of write-offs and collection calls have led to this conclusion. However, what has been overlooked is why patients don’t pay. It’s not that the patient is unwilling to pay, it’s typically a breakdown in the billing process. Patients are confused about the amount due, are unable to pay their balance in full, or are completely unaware of what they owe. Patients need clear communications, payment options, one statement, and flexibility to pay. During the session, Berman shared a personal story about her daughter that gave perspective to the issue.

Her daughter had been in a car accident resulting in a trip to the hospital. Her experience concluded with a collections notice of $13. She had no knowledge about her balance and was in complete shock and angst. The health system never informed her about the bill – no call, no letter in the mail, no email. Although it was the health system’s mistake, the responsibility was pinned on the patient, making for an unfair experience during an already stressful situation.

Berman advised to not assume people are deadbeats but believe situations like this are communication opportunities for the health system to act on.

2. Patients understand their medical bills

Multiple incoming bills from the physician and hospital, and receiving already settled bills in the mail makes it nearly impossible for the patient to understand what they owe. The current experience is disjointed and mistrustful. Howard said that the majority of the 3,400 incoming calls to their call center are bill related.

Eisele is making efforts towards giving price transparency and simplifying by using a single access point for patients. Howard, too, is making strides by using a patient financial experience platform that provides patients with a single monthly statement and itemizes costs, giving complete transparency.

3. Patients like the “traditional” way

Tradition is doing it the same way because that’s how it’s always been done. The billing process was originally created to support B2B transactions. With the patient as payer, why then is the process unchanged? Tradition, Tradition! (Sung in the tune from Fiddler on the Roof.)

Baxter shared an example of how the process is out of date by way of the billing statement. Statements still include the revenue cycle codes that were originally useful for insurers. He challenged, “Does a patient know what a 250-revenue code is?” Clearly it’s healthcare jargon so why continue taking up statement real estate with unhelpful information?

Final thoughts

Functioning under the status quo and not becoming consumer-centric is a risk a health system’s balance sheet cannot take. Health systems need to place the patient in the forefront of their strategy and rethink their current processes and systems. Eisele stated that “healthcare is looking at the past, and we need to start looking at the future.” Enough reflection has taken place; now it’s time to act and make a difference that holds to the health system’s mission and truly puts patients at the center of their organization.

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