There is a divide between healthcare organizations and patients. Economic uncertainty has put patients in tough financial positions: In a 2022 survey by Gallup, 38% of respondents said that high costs prevented them from seeking care.
Patients who do seek treatment struggle with payments on high-deductible health plans. Moreover, thanks to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more people suffer from long-term health conditions and worsened outcomes due to delayed treatment.
The divide is just as troubling for healthcare providers. Many feel burdened by navigating the business of healthcare. Expenses per patient across categories of drugs, labor, and supply have grown by 20.1%, causing 33% of hospitals to operate on negative margins. Combined with trending high-deductible plans, this pushes out-of-pocket costs even further for patients.
While all businesses must compete to survive, competition in healthcare can cause physicians to focus on financial metrics, pulling their time and energy away from patient care. This can put your healthcare organization in a difficult — but not impossible — position. In the best circumstances, competition should sustain business while driving you to improve your quality of care and be more responsive to patient needs.
Fortunately, even during these difficult times, there are ways to keep patients top of mind. These steps can help you improve the business of healthcare while demonstrating the compassion that patients need and expect:
1. Say more upfront.
Before bills are due, be transparent about your patients’ costs. This enables them to better manage their finances and avoid the frustration that comes with hidden costs. By displaying and explaining costs before services are rendered, you create a more compassionate patient experience. This also increases trust, which strongly correlates with positive patient outcomes.
2. Decrease the role of collection agencies.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one in five American households has unpaid medical bills, and there was a total of $88 billion in reported medical bills as of June 2021. The people who hold this debt risk bankruptcy, loss of credit, and trouble finding employment. They also become the targets of scammers.
Calls and visits from debt collectors make their situations even worse. While the presence of a collections agency may help your organization’s balance sheet, it can severely harm your relationship with patients. They will likely regard you as a source of dread and frustration rather than a source of reassurance and compassion. By helping patients figure out how to pay their bills, you ensure increased long-term revenue and patient satisfaction. You can accomplish this through dynamic patient outreach, extended billing cycles, and personalized payment plans.
3. Don’t rush.
Giving patients time to think, process, heal, and pay demonstrates that you care about them. For example, you could change your collection process to give patients additional days to organize. Many patients can’t meet a collection time of 120 days, causing providers to send patients to collections. By extending this timeline, Zotec Partners found that, on average, patients will pay in full. This strategy could result in more revenue for your healthcare organization and a more compassionate billing process for patients.
4. Make paying easy.
Technology can make bill payments less stressful. Even simple text reminders can make a difference: According to a survey by U.S. Bank, 44% of patients pay bills faster when they receive digital or phone notifications. You can remove a lot of the frustration associated with healthcare administration by setting up an online self-serve portal that gives patients easy access to their medical and billing information. You could also establish a contact center that’s always available to answer your patients’ questions.
5. Show compassion.
Compassion goes beyond what technical improvements are capable of. Determine how you could show gratitude to patients throughout the billing experience. Remind them that you see their pain. Evaluate your processes during every interaction. To make the payment process as easy and effective as possible, it’s imperative that you know when, why, and how patients are experiencing distress. Only compassion makes this possible.
Compassion isn’t reserved for doctors and nurses; it’s also a crucial part of healthcare payment cycles. Showing compassion for patients’ distress and sincerely attempting to reduce unnecessary pain can transform the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients.
In any scenario, regardless of the challenges the environment presents, your healthcare organizations should focus on providing high-quality, compassionate care. Success in the marketplace will always depend on this.
Joey Cavanaugh, RN
Joey Cavanaugh, RN, is the chief operations officer at Zotec Partners. With more than three decades of healthcare experience, she is committed to all aspects of operational excellence for the company and its clients, including radiology, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, and multispecialty billing. Joey graduated from Elmhurst College with a degree in science specialty nursing.