Optimizing Patient Care: Integrating Empathy into Healthcare Payment Practices

March 13, 2024

Out-of-pocket healthcare spending continues to be on the rise and is forcing the healthcare industry to reconsider what it means to optimize patient care. A joint report from Experian Health and PYMNTS found that 40% of patients spent more on healthcare than they could afford. This isn’t just a patient problem; once out-of-pocket expenses reach $7,500, healthcare providers typically see a dramatic decline in patient collection rates, according to a Crowe revenue cycle benchmarking analysis. Even if the quality of care exceeds expectations, patients might still have a poor experience during the payment process.

Take medical bills, for instance. Price transparency would deepen provider loyalty. Many patients don’t understand their bills, causing a negative financial experience that keeps them from returning to their service provider and making payments. It’s incredibly difficult for people to budget payments when there’s a lack of financial clarity in healthcare. Additionally, insurance can be extremely complex. Too often, people don’t know how much will be covered — nor do they understand their high-deductible costs. This leads to a lot of back and forth between patients, providers, and insurers over bills.

Then there’s the matter of the provider’s billing cycle. Depending on the care provided, bills might be sent at different times — even when the date of service is the same — because there were different providers involved in the medical encounter. It isn’t uncommon for patients to receive a bill from their primary care physician one week and then another bill from a specialist a week later. If patients believe their bill was already paid in full, then they might hesitate to pay the second one.

Fortunately, healthcare providers can improve the patient experience and increase collection rates by taking a more innovative, patient-centric approach to the payment process.

Compassionate Revenue Cycle Management for Optimizing Patient Care

Building empathy into revenue cycle management can be a tall order, especially considering the effects of rising healthcare costs. However, there are solutions that are proven to build satisfaction for patients and providers.

It starts with leveraging insurance billing to do as much as possible to maximize carrier coverage and minimize the patient responsibility. By leveraging all available resources and optimizing payments from insurers — with accurate insurance information, patient data, and medical coding — providers could avoid involving patients in the payment process. It might not work in all cases, but it would significantly affect patient collection rates.

If a bill is necessary, then healthcare organizations should aim to improve the medical-billing process. Here’s what providers can do to upgrade the patient experience when it comes to payments:

1. Make Self-Service Easy.

Most healthcare organizations already have a patient portal. Now is the time to see if it’s easy to find and intuitive to use. Designing self-service portals with the end-user in mind is just as important as giving them multiple payment options. Portals that enable patients with security, control, and convenience lead to greater collection rates and satisfaction. Having easy options to pay in full, set up payment plans, and update insurance prove effective. Any friction patients might experience in paying a bill can lead them to abandon the process, which impacts the revenue cycle.

2. Improve Accessibility To Help.

If patients have questions about their bills, the last thing they want is to hunt down customer service. Make it easy for them to get the help they need by providing a variety of options. Text, email, and callbacks should be among the options that healthcare providers consider. Most importantly, make sure customer service treats patients with the respect and compassion they deserve. Equip customer-service agents to answer questions with grace and to treat patients with empathy instead of just a number.

3. Get Creative.

Don’t just offer patients the option of a payment plan. Consider using a tactic that many other industries employ: a prompt payment discount. Even a 5% discount for early payment can improve cash flow for healthcare organizations. Additionally, sending bills to collections might help with the balance sheet, but it doesn’t do much to improve the patient experience. Instead, review billing cycles and consider extending deadlines. Allowing for more time shows compassion and helps providers collect in full. Couple the extension with an educational program on budgeting and easy-to-use payment plans to further improve patient satisfaction and optimize patient care.

4. Be Flexible.

Healthcare organizations can learn from other industries to offer a more retail-like experience. The convenience alone could help improve healthcare organizations’ cash flows. Organizations should consider offering options like text, email, and phone payments; time-of-service payments; contactless payments; traditional paper statements; and so on.

While healthcare organizations are limited in what they can do to minimize the effects of rising healthcare costs, they can learn how to improve the medical-billing process and enhance the patient experience. Make paying a bill straightforward, offer a number of options for payment options, and lean on technology whenever possible. This will improve revenue cycle management and do wonders for patient loyalty.

Learn more about Zotec Partners and optimizing patient care here.