Providers seek to ease patients’ dread about paying for care

LifeBridge Health provides integration between its EHR and financial systems, providing cost information to patients and otherwise facilitating registration steps.

Beyond just seeking to make sure their care is effective, patients are really concerned about how they'll pay for their medical services.

When it comes to facilitating consumer interactions, healthcare organizations traditionally have compared poorly with other industries. Typically, consumers can easily get financial information from banks, arrange travel plans or shop at online retailers like Amazon and Netflix, which anticipate their needs.

Consumers are losing patience with healthcare organizations, which still appear unable to match the experiences they have with other industries, says Joe Koons, senior vice president and chief revenue officer for LifeBridge Health, a Baltimore-based healthcare system.

“Patients really want a frictionless interaction as a consumer for healthcare services,” said Koons during an educational session during the September 22 HDM KLASroom session on consumer experience.

“This is easy to say, but there is a lot of complexity behind it – healthcare has lagged behind in terms of using standardized transactions,” Koons added.

Easing access requires technology

Healthcare expenditures are large and often unexpected for consumers, and they are bearing more of the cost of care, because of high-deductible plans – as a result, there’s increasing demand for tools that assist with administrative transactions, such as self-scheduling for appointments, and support to help with financial functions, such as cost estimates and payment plans, said Mac Boyter, research director for KLAS Research.

For Koons and LifeBridge, being frictionless goes beyond initial experiences such as a digital front door and scheduling – while important, the consumer’s experience can be damaged if they are shocked when completing the financial settlement for their care. Giving them straightforward answers is difficult because of the complex American healthcare reimbursement system, he notes.

“It’s important to communicate what the consumer can expect financially,” he emphasized during the education session. “As a contrast with non-healthcare services, we do have intermediaries that pay for health services on behalf of the patient.”

The variability of what intermediaries will pay obscures what consumers can expect to pay, but provider organizations can no longer use that as an excuse, Koons contended, adding that “As we get further into the digital world, patients will want and demand a level of transparency with their healthcare providers.”

Demand grows for transparency

LifeBridge – which operates five hospitals with about 900 employed physicians with offices throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area – took an expansive approach in looking to improve communication with consumers on financial issues. “We used an ROI process, which incorporates not only the financial but the patient experience aspect,” Koons said. “We wanted to understand how we can get value from a multi-modal approach.”

The organization wanted to bring homogeneity to how it presented information – for example, looking to resolve variation among billing statements of its various entities, so patients could see the same look and feel across the organization. However, it is looking to get information to consumers in the way they prefer to see it, such as sending bills via text, email or by mail.

“We meet them where they are at,” he said. “We put it in the hands of the patients about how they want to resolve the outstanding balance. We have lots of information available online, about how they can get financial assistance. We’ve linked the financial system with the EHR portal, so they can go seamlessly between the two. That’s what we are hearing from our patients – consistency and ease of use.”

More healthcare organizations are looking at these types of approaches, considering whether they can use capabilities of their electronic health records systems or integrate third-party solutions, KLAS research indicates, according to Boyter. Any approach “requires an appetite for innovation; it’s not a question of reticence, because healthcare organizations want to be seen as patient-centric.”

The financial aspect of care is the second most worrisome piece for patients, Koons said, second only the regaining health. “Health systems’ margins are under significant pressure, but we have to do things different to provide levels of care while addressing patients’ fears,” he said. “We have to segue into digital solutions and allow patients to use them.”

Registration is also being simplified at LifeBridge. For example patients can select a link to receive registration information, enabling them to take a picture of their insurance card. They then receive a pre-service estimate for the cost they’ll face. The registration process generates a QR code, which they can scan with their phone when they arrive for care, alerting staff that they have arrived.

Visit the HDM KLASroom to see the full session with KLAS & LifeBridge's Joe Koons, as well as other learning experiences.

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