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Encouraging Patient Engagement through Financial Communication (Part 1 of 2)

Rudyard Kipling famously wrote, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” That was once true of care delivery and medical payments; they were two separate departments encountered at different stages during a physician or hospital visit, and each was siloed to the activities of the other.

Today, patients are avid participants in their care and are more engaged and concerned with where their healthcare dollars are spent. With that in mind, savvy providers are collaborating with patients not only on a clinical level, but also on the financial side to better navigate their options. This new approach gives patients the power to make informed financial decisions about their care, with discussions taking place prior to treatment, rather than after when an unexpected bill or lack of understanding around financial obligations can negatively impact a patient’s overall perception of their care and the organization itself.

While it’s no surprise that patients are taking on greater financial responsibility for their healthcare costs due in large part to the rapid rise of high-deductible health plans, the statistics are overwhelming. In 2006, only 55 percent of covered workers had an annual deductible, which averaged $584. In 2014, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, that deductible has more than doubled to an average of $1,217 for 80 percent of the covered workforce.

When you consider that slightly over half of covered workers have an annual out-of-pocket maximum of $3,000 or more, that creates a gap that providers can’t ignore for the sake of their fiscal health, or that of their patients.

At the heart of achieving better patient engagement on the financial side is accurate, real-time information. Advanced technology gives providers the ability to provide patients with a more comprehensive picture of financial information and to present them with financial options that fit their needs.

Three key steps to achieving higher payments and better patient satisfaction include:

1)    Be proactive – Talking to patients prior to receiving care not only results in higher patient engagement and satisfaction, it also substantially increases the amount providers can expect to collect. For example, showing online full-disclosure of billing data builds trust among patients.

2)    Provide accurate estimates – Patients deserve the right to make informed decisions based upon the cost of care. For example, providers should be able to quickly – and easily – review expected costs and explain insurance coverage. Offering patients tools, such as the ability to request a real-time estimate online, gives them more control over the financial side of their healthcare.

3)    Offer choices – Payment plans designed in cooperation with patients, such as the ability to set up automatic payments, not only empowers them, it improves payments and reduces administration burdens.

Implementing these initiatives creates a more informed patient, which leads to a positive care experience and eases financial stressors. Patients are able to make educated choices and, if necessary, structure a payment plan that meets their needs or identify potential financial assistance programs. Providers also see benefits, such as increased patient loyalty as well as an improved revenue cycle and decreased administrative burdens when it comes to collections and follow up.

Mr. East, meet Ms. West. By integrating the clinical and financial sides of healthcare, patients are more engaged with their care, leading to better health for the patient and improved financial outcomes for providers.