9 best practices for helping patients pay healthcare bills

Information technology can have a dramatic impact on an organization’s ability to manage the revenue cycle.

How organizations can help patients learn about their care costs

Patient demand for price information is increasing, but many providers continue to struggle to generate meaningful estimates for them. According to Advisory Board research, 89 percent of patients want to know their medical costs in advance of receiving care. Giving patients a simple, intuitive way to find this information on their own helps organizations to attract new patients and retain existing ones.

However, it’s often difficult to develop accurate estimates because prices vary significantly with patient-specific inputs, and even if providers come up with an estimate, it’s often inaccurate or confusing. Every provider's price transparency strategy will depend on internal capabilities, brand strategy and their price point relative to the market. In a recent report, Advisory Board research has compiled best practices in implementing price transparency; several strategies depend heavily on better use of information technology.

Web-based pricing tools

The use of a simple, web-based pricing tool gives consumers a way to approximate what a procedure will cost. A first step in helping patients who are shopping is giving them a way to look at potential prices for services.

Patient education

Just having a pricing tool available isn’t enough, Advisory Board says. Patients must know where the pricing tool is, and the tool itself must be easy to use.

Different platforms

Because consumers have a variety of ways of accessing information, any tool must be able to run on different types of devices. This is particularly true as smartphones become common ways to access information; any tool must be able to run on a small-screen form factor.

Adaptable calculators

Part of the challenge for healthcare organizations is that they are dealing with patients who have a variety of forms of insurance, and require a vast range of care and services. Calculators must easily accommodate multiple patient types, services and insurers.

Service line selection

Making prices available for all types of services is a difficult challenge for providers; a lot of work has to be done in the back office, and information systems need to be prepared to tease out prices and make them available to the public. Providers will need to be strategic about choosing which service lines to feature, and in what order.

Data demands

Part of the challenge in providing an accurate price for consumers is asking them to provide sufficient information about their insurers, payment plan and services they’re inquiring about. To facilitate sufficient data sharing from the most consumers, providers should only ask for the amount of personal information they need to provide an estimate, and no more, Advisory Board recommends.

Simple answers

Calculators need to draw on information systems to provide an accurate single number for an estimate, not a confusing estimated range of where service prices might fall.

Next steps

Once consumers get an accurate estimate of the price for the services they’re inquiring about, it’s helpful to give patients a way to take next steps, such as making an appointment or finding out about payment options. That will require integration between information systems.

Statistical improvement

Organizations should regularly track metrics to measure how consumers are using price calculators and how effective they are in improving the revenue cycle or collections.

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