How Carilion Clinic Built a Better Billing Experience by Putting the Patient First

Carilion Clinic has gone through a transformation with one major focus: put the patient first. They’ve worked to identify issues, find solutions, and implement enhancements. A large part of this transformation was the acknowledgment that a patient-first approach includes more than just the clinical side of the relationship. Patients deserve (and demand) an improved financial experience as well.

How did this journey begin? “It started with a long, hard look in the mirror,” said Don Halliwell, EVP and CFO at Carilion Clinic. He recounted the Carilion story at the Becker’s CEO + CFO Virtual Event. According to Halliwell, the Carilion team realized they didn’t have the technology tools in place to meet the expectations of patients and their family members in today’s environment. 

Prior to partnering with VisitPay, Carilion came up with some changes they thought would be revolutionary—changes that would help patients understand their financial responsibility. They circulated the changes internally, and the entire Carilion team was on board. Then, they decided to show the new experience to a few patients—a focus group of sorts before finalizing and delivering it to their community. This is when they realized their bias. As health professionals, Halliwell and his team clearly understood the ins and outs of an explanation of benefits and the charges. This was a language they spoke fluently. “But many patients don’t understand their financial responsibility out of the gate,” Halliwell explained. And that’s a major problem for the consumer experience.

When he was growing up and went to the doctor or hospital, Halliwell remembers an 80/20 plan. “Whatever the bill was, you paid 20%. It was kind of the expectation.” Now, though, not only has the cost of care increased over the last decade or so, but there’s been a shift in how much responsibility the individual has for the cost of healthcare versus an employer or the government. The increased financial burden puts patients in a difficult spot. To make things harder, the breakdown of costs and responsibilities are often complicated, too.

Halliwell was aware that healthcare can sometimes feel very impersonal. With these additional patient challenges, he knew that needed to change. They needed to show compassion, and not just in their personal interactions, but in digital communication as well. They needed to help patients better understand their financial responsibility. It was a challenge that the Carilion team took head-on—with VisitPay by their side.

Carilion has completely changed its communication model. Now, every time they send a piece of communication, they use it as an opportunity to talk about payment options and financial assistance plans. In addition, patients are now able to communicate by text and email. Soon, they’ll add a chat function for patients to discuss their financial responsibility live, at their convenience. By providing greater access through technology—like VisitPay—patients have the information they need at their fingertips. 

Good communication is about more than digitization, though. It’s about meeting consumers where they want to interact. Not every patient wants to engage digitally. Not every patient wants to self-serve. So, how does Carilion work with a non-digital patient in this world? 

Halliwell points to his own family as an example. His mother, his wife, and his 18-year-old son are all Carilion patients. His mother isn’t a Carilion Bill Pay user and expects traditional modes of communication, like paper statements and phone calls. His wife, on the other hand, uses Carilion Bill Pay—but in a very different way than his son does. The point is, VisitPay gives Carilion the technological tools to meet each individual’s different expectations

Carilion patients have control now. Some patients want to speak to a representative, in which case they can call and talk to someone who will help them understand their financial responsibility and walk through available options. While on the phone, they can set up accounts with VisitPay, view their bill, set up a payment plan, or discuss what their financial responsibility might look like over time.

There are also individuals who prefer not to have to interact with anyone to set up an account. They’ll go to Carilion Bill Pay to complete their payment or set up a payment plan—all without any interaction. 

Carilion has found that many individuals don’t yet realize they’d like a digital solution until they try it. They may be intimidated by it. They may not really understand the options or capabilities it has. Carilion offers customer support to help individuals evaluate and test drive VisitPay as well.

The decision of which health system a patient chooses is a completely different mindset today—for both patient and the organization. The choice now involves communication, customization, payment plan options, and digital platforms. As Halliwell explains, “You just can’t have the depth and breadth of that conversation without a solution that integrates with that broader discussion.”

By enriching and expanding the patient relationship—both clinically and financially—Carilion has been able to accomplish its goal of providing patient-first care. Adopting the right technology and tools has helped Carilion meet the expectations of its patients and their family members in today’s environment—building a better experience from the first visit to final payment.

Find the results of Carilion’s transformation

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