Px success planning: include financial engagement in your patient engagement strategy

Organizational support and C-suite involvement are among the important factors in ensuring patients don’t worry about settling bills.

Medical bills
Because patients see paying for healthcare as a retail transaction, they increasingly want provider organizations to offer payment options.

These 10 success tips for patient/consumer financial engagement were originally shared in a presentation during HFMA Annual Conference 2022.

Healthcare providers are embracing myriad patient payment options, which has caused a shift in how patients view healthcare costs

Patients increasingly regard their payment of healthcare costs as a retail transaction. Based on its experience with health systems and revenue cycle leaders, ClearBalance HealthCare compiled the following tips for creating a successful patient and consumer financial engagement strategy.

No. 10 – Organizational buy-in

Revenue cycle leaders should always get buy-in for a consumer strategy at all levels of the organization because patient engagement encompasses both the clinical and financial experience. Attracting consumers depends on delivering trusted, quality care and an excellent overall experience. Equally important to the clinical experience is consumer loyalty, which is influenced by how early, how often and which methods are used to communicate with patients about their estimated cost of care and payment options for their out-of-pocket expense.

Optimally, an organization should strive to proactively promote all payment options available – both in one-on-one communication with patients and broadly to the community through price transparency and online estimation tools. Bringing all key stakeholders to the table – from C-suite to the front-line caregivers and everyone in between -- is best to ensure consistency of message.

No. 9 – Think like the consumer

Consumers manage healthcare costs in a retail-like fashion, relying on convenient, easy-to-use digital tools. They often manage healthcare costs as one of many monthly bills, paying down their medical debt in an affordable manner. Thus, it’s important to offer long-term financing exclusive to your health system, which they can use to easily add on balances the next time they need care – this makes it easy for them to return to a health system.

The cost of losing one patient for a health system could amount to $1.4 million over the patient's lifetime, which makes the cost of convenience tangible. It only takes one word in the patient financial or customer service process to be a game-changer. Putting yourself in a patient's shoes and listening to how representatives communicate with them can impact how patients view convenience at a health system.

No. 8 – Make financial options accessible

Understand the experience of a typical patient's financial journey, from the decision-making process to scheduling a procedure, determining how they’ll pay for it, having the procedure, undergoing recovery and managing their insurance and billing process. This can help uncover opportunities to promote all financing options.

Consider tagging along with patients and talking to them before and after their care experience. How is a patient getting financial communication and engaging directly with the patient financial services team? Do they use the website to search for financial options – not just "pay my bill"? Do they engage with an organization in preservice text messages, calls or email? This introspection can identify gaps in the process or communication that can be addressed with marketing and promotion strategies.

No. 7 – Forget the hospital jargon

Consumers have a voice and choice iamong healthcare providers, and sometimes the decision to change providers may hinge on something simple.

For example, one health system decided to move purposefully from the notion of being regarded as a "healthcare provider" to becoming a "lifestyle company." The entire healthcare team now thinks and acts like consumers. The system continually uses marketing focus groups and ongoing pulse surveys of patients and employees to ensure the information communicated about the care experience isn't confusing. For example, they consciously avoid hospital jargon and speak to patients in plain English.

No. 6 - Put leaders on the front line of your strategy

Inspiration from a leader is paramount to success. Leaders must support staff by backing up policy instead of bending to complaints. In smaller communities, the presence of healthcare C-suite leadership, alongside other community leaders, ensures transparency and fosters a sense of ownership and long-term financial health of local health systems.

Adapting to the financial needs of a community for proper healthcare is critical. Being a spokesperson and ambassador for the health system’s financial policies, coupled with grassroots education, is one way that engaged leadership can support revenue cycle programs.

No. 5 – Combine the care and cost conversation

Ideally, combining clinical and financial counseling helps achieve the "right care, right setting, right price" conversation. More health systems are striving to move financial counseling to the beginning vs. the back end of the process. However, with today's staffing challenges, incorporating an individual from the patient financial services team into all intake processes to help educate patients about their financial responsibility may be unreasonable.

It's possible to start small or with a specific unit, service line or population health initiative to level-set the patient financial services team. Ensuring that clinical care coordinators have a baseline understanding to engage the revenue cycle team is important.

Also, implementing a financial health dashboard can reveal the impact of lost revenue opportunities and encourage teams to work toward closing the gap between before-care conversations as opposed to after care.

No. 4 – Make sure the digital front door delivers a holistic experience

The ultimate strategic goal for many health systems is to support a consumer for life. Every interaction influences the patient's physical, mental and financial health with the potential to create an exceptional patient experience.

Leveraging the health system’s digital front door is elemental in this process. Ensure that options for financial assistance, prompt pay discounts, short-term payment plans and long-term patient financing are as easily accessible as directions to facilities or the patient’s medical information.

A system may want to transition to offer an integrated digital solution that provides price estimation across hospitals, phpatiysician practices and clinics. Another option may be usin online chat, email, text and predictive analytics from auto-dialer contacts to better communicate with patients. Integration of these technologies can significantly improve patient engagement and the digital experience.

No. 3 – Be flexible in the event of catastrophe

We all experience natural disasters, such as hurricanes in the Southeast and fires in the West. But the COVID pandemic gave catastrophe new meaning, and health systems must offer flexibility as consumers face these or personal crises.

Having flexible financial options for patient as they navigate personal issues such as loss of job and insurance or some other catastrophic circumstance can produce positive benefits. Financial payment options like interest-free programs or affordable payment alternatives to internal payment or suspended billing plans can increase patient satisfaction and loyalty rates.

No. 2 – Find a partner that can support your goals

In 2021, hospital revenues declined $54 billion, and it’s clear that healthcare no longer is recession proof. Rising inflation doesn’t just affect consumers. It affects the business of healthcare as well. Most health systems suspended billing for non-elective services during COVID, which left them strapped for cash. Now the struggle is paying higher labor costs.

Health systems can’t afford to be in the banking business. Carrying accounts receivable for patients to pay their cost of care over time isn't core to the business of healthcare. Partners exist that have better, more affordable financing solutions. Opting to transition in-house payment plans to an outside patient financing partner may enable health systems to increase cash acceleration, patient adoption of financing options and revenue cycle team productivity.

No. 1 – Every balance matters

The phrase “every balance matters” has multiple meanings.

First, it is the balance and workload relief for patient financial services staff by offloading non-core functions and services to a partner whose sole focus and ability is patient financial engagement.

Second, it's the ability to create less friction and data entry steps for staff and enable greater self-service payment plans set up by patients with revenue cycle technology that integrates seamlessly with patient accounting systems, whether it's Epic, Cerner, Meditech or another technology vendor.

Lastly, and most importantly, this phrasereminds patient financial teams to focus on each individual patient's financial situation, giving them access to solutions without pre-qualifications, conditions or the levy of exorbitant interest rates.

Offering patients attractive payment options and providing consumers with convenience prevents loss to the competition. Likewise, investing in strategies that create loyalty naturally increases revenue.

Laurie Heavey is senior vice president of marketing for ClearBalance Healthcare.

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