In the spring of 2019, INTEGRIS Health broke ground on an enterprise-wide vision to reimagine our financial engagement strategy. Like other health systems across the nation, we realized that our patient billing processes were not attuned to the economic realities many of our patients faced when managing the rising cost of care.
We wanted to create a self-service experience just as good as what patients received—and expected—as consumers.
Our vision was to create a financial experience that rivaled the quality and personalization of our clinical encounters. We wanted patients to feel that they were heard and that their perspectives could change how, when, and where we interacted with them. We wanted to modernize and create a self-service experience just as good as what patients received—and expected—as consumers in their everyday lives.
Though patients were the obvious focal point of this ambitious initiative, it wasn’t the only one. Our leadership team understood that the success of any patient-facing program hinged on redefining success in many of our internal operations, including revenue cycle, call center, and patient access. We needed to equip our dedicated staff with the tools and resources necessary to navigate the delicate financial and emotional challenges that often accompany patient billing.
Fortune favors the bold
There was understandable skepticism that we could realize a technically difficult and resource-intensive project in 120 days. None of these concerns were allayed by the fact that we were concurrently breaking ground on a net-new Epic EHR build.
However, INTEGRIS prides itself on being a member of the community it serves. We count among our patients friends, family members, and neighbors. Central to our mission at INTEGRIS is the idea of “returnship,” which means giving back part of ourselves to the communities we serve. As a community-centered non-profit, the community is our shareholder, and it’s important for INTEGRIS to maintain healthy margins in order to give back to the people we serve through investments in community programs, such as local rescue missions, schools and outreach to seniors, or wellness initiatives, such as our mobile wellness clinic.
Breathing life into an enterprise-wide project like this meant eschewing isolated process improvements or narrowly focused technology overlays in favor of a much more innovative and far-reaching transformation.
For health systems mulling a similar vision, my hope is that this article serves as a practical roadmap for aligning the clinical and financial experience, capturing and incorporating patient feedback, and achieving buy-in from stakeholders from across the organization.
The 120-day roadmap for patient billing
Our decision to prioritize the patient financial experience was prompted by the need to integrate the patient financial journey into the overall patient experience. To make that possible, a health system the size of INTEGRIS needs tools to better understand where patients are in their lives and empower them to make the right financial decisions for themselves and loved one.
However, patient billing, like other parts of the revenue cycle, remains wedded to siloed processes when it should be driven by the consumer’s expectations and needs. Making that pivot required prioritizing technology, processes, and people together.
With this in mind, it was imperative that our project team include perspectives from a wide range of stakeholders, including information technology services, marketing and communications, members of our Patient Financial Advisory Council, and subject-matter experts, including customer service, patient access and financial clearance. This team established the foundation for reorienting technology, processes, and people toward a common vision and goal.
It’s important for INTEGRIS to maintain healthy margins in order to give back to the people we serve.
Patient financial engagement is an evolving process that requires continual reassessment and refinement. We wanted to ensure that revenue cycle teams were able to leverage patient segments, consumer feedback, and key performance indicators to implement, test, and adjust customized engagement strategies, and facilitate operational reporting as our financial engagement touchpoints spread across the health system. We also wanted to increase workflow and operational efficiencies by helping staff prioritize accounts for outreach and identify cases where charity care was warranted.
From a technology perspective, we looked for an all-in-one platform that:
- Offered intelligent analytics from our existing guarantor data to help us understand consumer needs and expectations
- Helped patients understand what they owe
- Provided them the tools they needed to make manageable payments relevant to their individual situation
It was also important to us to create multiple gateways for engagement. All patients want the same level of control and transparency, regardless of how that experience is delivered. Whether patients wanted to engage through a self-service portal, email, call center or in-person interactions, the quality of that experience had to feel the same.
This integrated approach not only ensures that people, processes, and technologies are seamlessly aligned, but also gives us a solid foundation to build a cohesive experience at the moments where clinical and financial domains intersect.
Results and next steps
The end of June 2019 marked our go-live with VisitPay. Today, we have started to evaluate the initial returns on all of our hard work.
Health systems need to recognize that the financial experience is a healthcare experience.
To date we have registered more than 8,000 patients to our VisitPay self-service portal, thanks to strategic efforts of our marketing and communications team. In September, the platform processed payments that already amount to 28% of total patient collections.
But most important, we have realized significant improvements in customer-satisfaction metrics. Patient surveys have noted measurable rises in patients’ perception of the financial experience, including setting up payment plans, making payments, registering for self-service, and signing up for text alerts.
Far from resting on our laurels, the INTEGRIS and VisitPay teams are hard at work at the next phases of the journey, including a scripting campaign for our call center, email campaigns, and innovating within the pre-service area of the health system.
The patient as payer era has changed the rules of the game. Health systems need to recognize that the financial experience is a healthcare experience. Our mission is no longer just clinical care, but overall care, including financial wellbeing. Fortunately, the challenges patients and health systems face today have real and enduring solutions.