The world of healthcare is a difficult one for today’s patients to navigate, and the financial side is especially complex. It’s important to step back from time to time and remember that our industry exists to provide the best possible care for patients. And that means putting the patient first.
That’s why health systems need to constantly evaluate their billing journey to make sure it’s providing patients with the financial experience they want and need. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it’s the only way to maintain patient loyalty and satisfaction, ensuring health systems remain financially viable.
So, how can health systems keep tabs on whether or not patients are happy with their financial experience? It’s simple: ask them. I’ve found patient input to be invaluable in measuring and improving the financial experience of a health system, and it really boils down to these two pieces of advice:
1) Ask for feedback programmatically.
It’s only over the course of the last ten years that patient payments have become a significant pain point for consumers and hospitals. Patients have always had to pay a portion of their bills, but now that portion can be significantly larger, leading to much higher balances. Given that healthcare expenses are also frequently unplanned, the stakes are high.
Many health providers lack programmatic ways of getting feedback on the patient financial experience today. Monitoring phone conversations between their billing department and patients may be their best bet. That’s not bad, but it doesn’t scale and doesn’t give a representative view of the overall experience. Ideally, finance leaders will find automated and online methods of surveying patients. They should ascertain Net Promoter Score to get an understanding of patient satisfaction.
But they should also look beyond NPS to understand patient perceptions of how hard the experience is at different stages in the bill-paying process. After all, no one particularly wants to pay a bill, so surveying to find pinch points in the experience based on effort is an important way of getting actionable feedback. If fully automated survey mechanisms are not available (and to many healthcare providers, they are not), then finance leaders should partner with their marketing teams to deploy some of these same questions through email surveys, and do this several times a year to provide a useful benchmark of performance over time.
2) Listen to patient input—and make changes accordingly.
Make improvements based on feedback, and tell patients what you’ve changed. Consumer confidence in the bill-paying process is at a low ebb today. Given the opportunity to provide feedback, some patients will take the opportunity to vent years of built-up frustration with a notoriously difficult process. With this in mind, it is particularly important that finance leaders act on what they find.
This is why, returning to the type of feedback we recommend health providers gather, it is important to not just collect feedback on the overall experience (like NPS) but also on specific moments during that experience (for example, what patients experienced when arranging a payment plan for a larger balance). By doing this, the largest issues will quickly rise to the top. For finance leaders, this kind of synthesis is truly a gift. The most problematic areas will be easy to identify, and improvements can be made.
Given the less-than-optimal nature of many of today’s financial relationships in healthcare, it is important for providers to show patients where they have improved. Paper statements and the billing pages on provider websites are great places to do this. Over time, trust will build and the financial relationship between the patient and provider will become more constructive.