Patient Retention Depends on Relieving the Financial Stress of Care

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Patient Billing

It’s impossible to go to the grocery store without feeling the impact of rising prices for meat, seafood, dairy and produce—so high, some consumers are eating out to save money. But if consumers’ response to a 13% hike in grocery prices is to consider alternate options, how might their approach to healthcare shift in an inflationary environment?

Last fall, a survey fielded nearly 18 months into the pandemic indicated more than half of consumers had delayed needed healthcare to avoid the expense of care. Now, with Fitch Ratings projecting a deteriorating outlook for not-for-profit healthcare organizations based on elevated labor expenses and a continued surge in supply expenses, organizations must hang onto surgical and specialty care volumes if they are to protect their financial health. 

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This is an area where revenue cycle teams can make a difference. 

By relieving the financial stress of care early in the patient encounter through the point of payment, revenue cycle organizations can help mitigate the anxiety that comes with scheduling and receiving care. In doing so, they give individuals greater confidence that the health system will help them manage the expense of care in ways that meet their needs. It’s a move that not only protects patient relationships, but also helps reduce healthcare costs by ensuring minor issues are treated early and chronic disease is managed appropriately.

Here are three considerations for building a consumer-centric approach to financial engagement in a cost-conscious environment.

  1. Make it easy for consumers to gain estimates for their out-of-pocket costs of care. Then, connect with individuals digitally or by phone within 24 hours of providing an estimate. In situations where a person may be ill-prepared to handle the out-of-pocket costs of care, proactive communication gives consumers a clear understanding of their expected expense and the options available to manage their healthcare costs. This demonstrates compassion for the patient’s financial circumstances and provides peace of mind that the hospital will work with them on payment. Be sure to walk the patient through the range of payment plans available, whether short- or long-term. Then, offer to enroll the patient at the point of contact. This eliminates the mystery from this process and assures patients that they are on the right path for care. Another option: Offer patients the ability to self-enroll in payment plans, such as via text or your patient portal.
  2. Tighten patient financial communications at each stage of the patient journey. The fall 2021 survey showed just 25% of consumers were very satisfied with the quality of communications they receive from healthcare providers regarding availability of payment plans, how to pay for healthcare costs or the range of affordable options for payment. Given that nearly half of healthcare revenue cycle departments face an extreme shortage of staff, it would be easy for revenue cycle leaders to place process improvement for consumer communications on the back burner, thinking, “Easier said than done.” But digital options for communications—from text messages to live assistance via revenue cycle chatbots—can help elevate these communications without putting a strain on revenue cycle resources. They also can assist hospitals in providing faster responses to the questions that are top of mind for consumers, like “How much will I owe after insurance?” and “Has insurance already paid its portion of the bill?” The right communications approach raises the likelihood of payment while creating a better impression of the healthcare organization at the last stage of the patient encounter.
  3. Offer flexible and empathic payment plan or financing options. Healthcare isn’t getting any cheaper. As consumers shoulder higher prices in every aspect of their lives and more financial responsibility for care, putting the right solutions in place to ease their monetary stress helps ensure needed care is received. It also increases the likelihood that organizations receive payment for the care provided in a timely fashion. 

This is an instance where healthcare organizations can gain patients’ trust and engagement by providing a variety of affordable payment options—whether short-term or long-term—and communicating them broadly. Given that lack of affordable monthly payment plans is one of the top frustrations of one out of four consumers, the ability to select the right payment option—including digitally—helps ensure patients continue to seek care even as they navigate other economic challenges.

Health systems also can proactively assist individuals in managing the cost of their care by:

  • Making payment-in-full easy for consumers. Increasingly, health systems are leaning into digital solutions that collect payments directly through links embedded in a text message. This enables people to pay immediately—via a digital wallet, credit card or ACH, depending on the patient’s preference—with a single click.
  • Incorporating patient financing into your digital payment approach. For instance, offer consumers the opportunity to establish a payment plan for their healthcare bill directly from their phone. Then, provide text-to-payment notifications when monthly payments are due to make self-management easy to remember.

Providing Financial Care for Patients

The economics of being a patient is creating high degrees of stress, and with deductible resets coming in January, tough choices regarding healthcare decisions will be made.  As hospitals and health systems tackle the lingering effects of the pandemic, making compassionate connections with consumers gives them the confidence to pursue recommended care and protects organizational stability.

Mark Spinner is president and CEO, AccessOne.