Removing the Friction from Healthcare Finance

The healthcare industry has been approaching its much-needed digital revolution for some time. The traditional, paper-centric approach to billing was often a source of friction in a patient’s healthcare relationship. A patient may experience great clinical care only to receive a bill in the mail weeks or months later—without notice, without explanation, and without options. It’s an impersonal experience, and often feels so disconnected from the highly personal care a patient receives during his or her visit. Furthermore, this model is behind how a consumer interacts with payment touchpoints in other industries. On top of that, the patient is now carrying more financial responsibility than before, meaning balances are larger and the stakes are higher. And COVID has created a new urgency for health systems to act, both in digitizing the patient experience from end to end, and in looking for ways to support revenue. 

This digital transformation means providing self-service options to patients. It means creating a seamless user experience. It means giving patients the tools they need to make decisions that work for them, whatever their financial situation. In short, it means removing the friction from billing, making it a smooth, patient-first experience.

I met with Eric Neal, Director of Patient Pay Services at Henry Ford Health System and Todd Craghead, Vice President of Revenue Cycle at Intermountain Healthcare, during a Becker’s Hospital Review webinar to discuss the changes they’ve seen in healthcare finance over the last year and the progress they’ve been a part of at their respective health systems. Here are some of the highlights I took away from our discussion. (For the full story, watch the webinar replay.)

Henry Ford’s Transformed End-to-End Experience

Henry Ford has been working at a rapid pace to create a digital patient financial experience for their community. They teamed up with VisitPay to create Henry Ford Bill Pay, an intuitive, user-friendly bill pay solution that leans on self-service—something Eric Neal knew was crucial to patients. He also knew that, as the financial part of their relationship with the patient was becoming increasingly important, this would be pivotal in establishing a cohesive, compassionate end-to-end patient journey.

“It was more and more obvious that the financial experience contributed to the patient’s overall experience,” he said when we talked. “And so we really had to focus, and make sure that we could provide the best financial experience for the patient because—regardless of the clinical experience—if we don’t get it right on the back end, the patient’s going to let us know. For us, the big drive was just improving that financial experience because we knew it would improve the patient’s overall experience. We wanted something that was well-designed. It was really important to us that the patient could resolve their financial experience in a positive way, by themselves, using the right digital tool.”

In continuing with their goal to create a positive end-to-end patient experience, Eric Neal and his team at Henry Ford recognized the importance of transparency in regard to a patient’s bills. “Patients can sign in and see their Explanation of Benefits and Health Equity (HSA) balances in one place, and also make payments.”

Intermountain Healthcare’s Seamless Journey

Intermountain Healthcare has also made incredible strides to bring a better financial experience to their community. They recently worked with VisitPay to include bill payment in their innovative digital front door called MyHealth+, which has seen 50,000 new patients join every week. 

When I spoke with Todd Craghead at the webinar, he talked passionately about the importance of the financial experience within the end-to-end patient journey. “I think this is really critical,” Craghead said. “We went through this exercise of trying to determine what would be the best patient experience. And we really narrowed it down to three key categories. First: how does the patient find care? Second: how do we manage care? Third: how are they paying for care? And so we tried to define what we could do to eliminate friction from the patient’s experience—so that their journey is not disrupted in a way that would cause harm.” It was clear that they could alleviate some of the dissonance in the patient experience by improving the financial side of the relationship. The answer: MyHealth+ with VisitPay.

Craghead understands the value of a cohesive brand when building a full patient experience. “The VisitPay folks have been very instrumental in adapting to Intermountain’s branding,” he said. “Which is very important. We want the patient to feel as though they’re inside one platform. And, while we might give them some doors that they can open in order to extend the functionality or leverage the functionality that VisitPay has, it really looks and feels like Intermountain Healthcare the whole time—which is very important for us. Also, given the fact that we are an integrated delivery system, integrating with our health plan was critical.”

Better Healthcare Finance for Patient and Provider

Neal and Craghead also know that these innovations are as beneficial for the provider as they are for the patient. 

“The traditional approach was to focus strictly on yield and payments and that sort of thing,” said Neal. “But now, I think we have to look at what the patients think about our platform and how they’re engaging and utilizing these self-service tools. Ultimately, we focus a lot on Net Promoter Score. Henry Ford Health System is currently at a 44. I think the industry average is between 16-27. So, we’re really focused on making sure that the patient has a positive experience in the application and that they can resolve their financial need. Ultimately, we think the future of the revenue cycle metric is really monitoring the engagement of the patient—because, ultimately, digital engagement is driving yield at Henry Ford.”

Craghead agreed, noting how their transformation has supported patient satisfaction—and loyalty. “More and more, patients have choices. And we want to make certain their billing and financial experience is top-notch. A 45 Net Promoter Score compares quite well to say Target at 43, which is a non-healthcare organization. It’s tremendous for us to compare ourselves against other industries that focus almost entirely on bringing customers back and creating loyalty.”

Hearing these industry leaders speak with such gravity and urgency about the healthcare financial experience, and the part it plays in designing a frictionless patient journey, really seemed to me like a perfect representation of healthcare’s current transformation. Leaders and health systems like these are driving the industry into the digital, patient-first future. 

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