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5 Critical Steps to Patient Payments – Part 1

A recent infographic on patient payments caught my eye as it revealed a trend that continues to gather speed. The numbers on patient medical debt are staggering, and they’re only getting larger. With patients now shouldering about 30% of their medical costs, healthcare providers can no longer afford to operate as they did in the old days when Payers were pretty much footing the entire bill.

Much like physicians who develop a medical treatment plan, providers must develop a strategic plan for patient payments, then engage tactics that support that approach. Otherwise it’s just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, which may temporarily halt the bleeding, but it’s not an effective long-term treatment.

Treatment Plan Prescribed for Payments

To successfully treat the issue of collecting patient payments, providers should consider a consumerism strategy. Google it, and you’ll see that consumerism is the protection or promotion of the interests of the consumer – in this case, the patient.

This is not a new concept to the industry as advocating patients’ involvement in their own healthcare decisions has been a growing trend over the last decade. We’re seeing a shift from “doctor says/patient does” to more of a partnership model where both parties work together to improve the health outlook of the patient.

Likewise, working together to improve the financial outlook for patients who are paying a larger portion of their medical care is an effective approach to securing payments. Traversing toward a healthier financial outlook for both providers and patients requires a fundamental change on two levels:

  • Attitudinal
  • Operational

Change on these two levels are interdependent for a successful outcome. Five key steps within these levels will guide you on that path.

Today, we’ll focus on the two steps that are required for attitudinal change.

1. Organizational Alignment

One of my colleagues has her roots in retail, more specifically, customer loyalty strategy. She has always maintained that customer loyalty is not a marketing department issue, nor is it a front-line employee issue. It is the responsibility of every single staff member within the organization – from the mail room to the C-suite. The same message holds true in healthcare as well.

Regardless of whether a staff member interacts directly with patients, creates policies that affect patients, or designs the bills that patients receive, everyone must embrace consumerism or it is likely to fail. And where does adoption start? It starts squarely at the top.

For this strategy to be successful, leadership must:

  • Champion the shift
  • Communicate it throughout the organization
  • Implement ongoing education and training programs
  • Hold managers and staff accountable for executing the change

As providers gravitate to a patient-centric mindset across the organization, patients will respond and financial outcomes will improve.

2. Patient Empathy

It’s hard to be a patient. It seems like everything is a big unknown – from “is this the right treatment for me” to “how am I going to feel afterward” to “what’s this going to cost me?”

Keep in mind that more than one third of Americans say they would go into debt if faced with a medical bill of $100 or more. So in addition to dealing with the uncertainty of their medical condition, they are dealing with the uncertainty of how to pay for treating that condition.

Putting themselves in their patients’ shoes can help providers better understand how to work with patients to alleviate their payment concerns.

Transparent pricing is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough in giving patients the information they need to make decisions. Patients shouldn’t have to pull out a calculator in an attempt to quantify their financial liability.

Conversely, providers that do the work for patients and share cost estimates in advance can help patients prepare for the financial aspect of their treatment. With cost estimate in hand, it less likely that patients will be caught off guard when they receive their bill and unprepared to deal with their financial portion.

According to 2018 research by HIMSS Analytics on patient perceptions of the financial process, providing an estimate comes with multiple benefits to the provider:

  1. Driving upfront payments. 46% of patients are likely to pay a bigger portion of their bill in advance when they receive an estimate.
  2. Increasing patient retention. 68% of patients are likely to return for future care when they are provided an estimate.
  3. Motivating patient referrals. 69% of patients are more likely to recommend a friend to the healthcare provider.

Those are some compelling dividends coming from a single course of action. With 87% of providers having the ability to share cost estimates, this is a revenue driving opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Once the organization is in alignment and embracing a patient-centered mindset, providers will be poised to adopt the operational changes that need to occur to drive greater patient payments. We’ll review those three steps in our next post.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your stories of how your organization is making the attitudinal shift to patient-centricity.

Chirag Bhargava is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Chi-Matic. With problem solving and automation in his DNA, Chirag is passionate in his quest to help healthcare organizations with process improvements and maximizing the use of technology to improve operating margins, overall revenue cycle processes and patient experience. Prior to co-founding Chi-Matic, Chirag spent 14 years at Epic managing revenue cycle installation and optimization, including multi-state technical rollouts, overseeing post-live Epic revenue cycle success for academic organizations, and building executive relationships across Epic revenue cycle customers. Chirag holds a Bachelor’s degree from IIT Kanpur, Master’s from University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign and Executive MBA from University of Wisconsin.

Chirag Bhargava

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