Why Marketers Should Care About the Patient Financial Experience

It is time for healthcare marketers to get deeply engaged in the financial experience offered by their health system. The changing dynamics of US healthcare has left the patient bearing more and more of the financial responsibility for their treatment. Every statement sent by the provider to a consumer is an opportunity for the provider brand to show up in a positive way: with clarity, transparency, flexibility and compassion. But too often each billing statement is a brand opportunity lost: a disappointing financial experience that follows a positive clinical experience.  These quotes from frustrated patients (picked up as part of VisitPay’s social listening efforts to understand attitudes to patient billing across the US) are representative:

“The nurses are great… but billing can’t figure out how the mail works.”

“Top 3 hospital in the country, and billing services are bottom 3 on the planet.” 

The work to be done to address the high overall cost of healthcare in the US doesn’t change the fact that extraordinary improvements can and should be made in patient satisfaction with the billing process right now. There’s no excuse; there’s no reason not to act. Strong, trusted relationships between provider and consumer have been nurtured over generations, but they are being eroded one faceless statement at a time by what has become a significant “kitchen table” issue across almost all consumer demographic groups across the country: how to deal with the high costs and frustrating experience of healthcare billing today.

At VisitPay we focus a lot on the financial aspects of the patient as payer. It’s in our DNA. And we’re great at creating yield curves and propensity to pay models. We frequently see significant gaps between the amount a health system has billed its patients and the amount they collect. And while that gap has enormous fiscal implications — enough to move operating margins into negative territory — it has very important and not well understood consequences for the brand health of the provider too.

Most of the health systems we talk to are significant participants in their communities. They are fully integrated systems; inevitable players in their regional markets, which represent some of the most heavily urbanized areas of the US. They are pillars of the community they serve, fully and deeply engaged in the ongoing life of their cities and tied strongly to the economic fortunes of the local population. They have strong local fundraising networks and get involved in sponsoring and supporting community and charitable endeavors in very visible and important ways. In surveys, the community looks to these providers as their preferred choice when they envisage a future medical need. And they expect, and typically receive, clinical excellence in return.

But what about the financial experience? And what is the link between financial experience, clinical experience and overall perception of the provider brand? Today, revenue cycle teams are on the front line of the provider-consumer experience as never before. Beyond the financial consequences of every dollar left on the table by the health system are very personal, human stories. And they aren’t always good ones. Some are stories of frustration, regret, anger, guilt, despair, sacrifice, embarrassment. The positive perception of the health system’s brand is being chipped away and the trusted relationship between provider and the community it exists to serve is being eroded.

So what should marketers do about it? Here are three starting points:

1. Understand the consumer financial experience.

Spend time with your revenue cycle team to understand existing policies and approaches to working with consumer as payer. What financing terms does your health system offer (beyond financial assistance)? What do your paper or digital statements look like, and how many are sent each week? What is the average post-insurance balance owed by patients and how has that changed over the last five years? How easy is it to pay a bill over time? How much of the total revenue of your health system is due from patients rather than commercial or government payers? Armed with this information you’ll have a good understanding of the way your health system shows up to consumers today and what’s at stake.

2. Measure how consumers rate the experience today.

How do consumers rate their financial experience? All providers we work with have focus groups and online panel groups. Use them to talk to patients about the financial experience, and measure satisfaction with the current billing experience. A simple five box customer satisfaction survey will get the lay of the land. Or you could find out your financial experience NPS score. At least one of our clients, St. Luke’s, got started with their approach after realizing that only 28% of their patients awarded top box satisfaction with the billing process. 

3. Develop and bring to life a patient financial journey.

Think about the end-to-end patient financial experience. What determines how patients look at their financial interactions with your system? It could be balance due, demographics, clinical condition, or other things. Can you identify patient financial segments that share common characteristics for whom you can design a better experience? VisitPay is a platform to implement and test different strategies and experiences for different consumer segments, and we deploy in-app surveys to ask what they think of that experience (opening up a new and important feedback loop between healthcare marketer and patient).  

Understanding the financial side of your brand experience is an important building block in the overall effort to offer a positive consumer experience across the continuum of care. The marketing team at VisitPay works with all our clients to help them deploy our platform. We’d be happy to share our experiences in more detail.

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