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Revenue cycle myths: Realistic ways to increase reimbursement

December 4, 2023 by Experian Health

Could common revenue cycle management (RCM) myths be preventing healthcare organizations from getting paid in full? Does what constituted best practice a few years back still apply to revenue cycle operations today? Many providers are embracing new technology to strengthen their RCM processes, using automations and software to create more accurate and efficient billing and claims management workflows. But if these processes are built on shaky assumptions, the results will be sub-optimal.

As year-end financial reviews get under way, there is a prime opportunity to re-evaluate some long-standing beliefs about billing, collections and payments that, if not set straight, could limit financial performance in the year ahead. This article examines four of the most common revenue cycle myths and considers what providers can do to make financial growth a reality in 2024.

Revenue Cycle Myth 1: All patients are equally likely to pay

Reality: No two patients are alike – whether in their medical needs or financial circumstances. Providers know this, yet many rely on revenue cycle management solutions that lean toward a one-size-fits-all approach to patient payments. Instead, providers should consider RCM tools that use data and analytics to segment patients according to their individual financial situation, to create a more personalized and proactive approach to collections. This should take account of both the patient’s ability to pay (i.e., whether they can afford their bills), and their likelihood to pay promptly, which may be enhanced by offering payment options that are convenient and aligned to their personal preferences.

Collections Optimization Manager analyzes patients’ individual payment history and demographic information so their accounts can be routed to the most appropriate collections pathway from the start. Patients that are likely to pay quickly can be sent billing information automatically and presented with self-service payment options. Alongside this, Patient Financial Clearance pulls together credit and non-credit data to help providers identify patients who may need a little more guidance and connect them to suitable payment plans. It catches any individuals who may be eligible for Medicaid or charity support. Staff get accurate, at-a-glance data to help them have sensitive financial conversations with patients, and can avoid losing time chasing collections from patients who would never have been able to pay.

Case study: See how Stanford Health Care improved collections with a tailored, patient-focused approach to healthcare collections.

Myth 2: It’s hard to have meaningful pre-service financial conversations with patients

Reality: Contrary to popular belief, most patients are receptive, and even eager, to have financial discussions with their provider as soon as possible. Doing so need not be challenging. In the past, providers may have worried that broaching the money question could deter patients from seeking necessary care, or simply not prioritized such discussions. Billing and insurance can also be highly complex, which may lead staff to assume that patients would find conversations about these issues to be confusing or overwhelming. But it is for these exact reasons that providers should have financial discussions with patients as early as possible.

Experian Health’s 2023 State of Patient Access survey found that almost 90% of patients wanted upfront pricing estimates so they could plan ahead for their financial obligations – yet less than a third received one. Tools like Patient Payment Estimates and Patient Financial Advisor can calculate cost estimates, taking account of the patient’s claim history, deductibles and other insurance information, and automatically send these to patients before treatment so they know what to expect. These can also be combined with quick payment links so bills can be cleared before care. Giving patients consistent information through whichever digital channel they prefer means they will be better positioned to make informed decisions and discuss their situation with patient access staff if necessary. When patients are better informed and supported, they’re also less likely to end up postponing care due to cost concerns.

And with the same accurate data at their fingertips, patient access staff can serve as financial concierges, helping patients to understand coverage and copayments and check eligibility for relevant financial assistance programs. In addition to user-friendly data tools, providers should consider whether staff would benefit from additional training to bolster their confidence in leading compassionate financial conversations.

Myth 3: It’s impossible to know what patients owe across a system with a single look-up

Reality: Thanks to data analytics and digital payment technology, it is now pretty straightforward to consolidate a patient’s outstanding balance information from across an entire health system, and debunks common revenue cycle myths. Patient access staff can view a comprehensive summary of a patient’s insurance status, estimated liability and open balances from multiple providers, enabling them to have meaningful financial conversations with patients. Even if these discussions do not lead to immediate payment, they can still act as a reminder to nudge the patient to act soon, thus accelerating the payment process.

Selecting RCM tools from a single vendor makes it easier to integrate data from multiple workflows and generate a unified view of what a patient owes. When systems talk to each other, it’s possible for a single tool to leverage the data and create a better experience for patients and staff. For example, PaymentSafe® automatically brings together data gathered throughout the revenue cycle to streamline what was previously a disjointed and time-consuming process. With point-to-point encryption, it accepts secure payments at any point in the patient’s journey, using cash, check, card payments and recurring billing, through a single web-based application.

Myth 4: Revenue cycle management is “set-and-forget”

Reality: Revenue cycle managers may dream of setting up a system once and then forgetting about it, but the reality is that managing billing, claims and collections is an ongoing and evolving process that needs constant attention. Healthcare organizations must regularly review and adjust their RCM strategies to prevent missed revenue opportunities, manage compliance risks and promote operational efficiencies.

That said, data analytics and automated revenue cycle management tools do make it far easier for providers to stay on top of RCM demands. These tools help providers with everything from monitoring payer policy changes and identifying billing errors to personalizing patient communications and generating monitoring reports. Artificial intelligence takes it a step further, for example, by preventing and predicting claim denials. In this way, these tools reduce the need for extensive staff input, so staff can spend more time focusing on the issues that need more human attention. With up-to-the-minute reports covering multiple RCM processes, staff also have the information they need to optimize performance and find opportunities to boost reimbursement that may have been previously overlooked. So, while RCM is not quite a “set-and-forget” process, automations and analytics can simplify it significantly, so it’s less labor-intensive for staff and more efficient overall.

Debunk revenue cycle myths and proactively challenge assumptions to increase profitability

Debunking these revenue cycle myths is simple and achievable with tools that integrate a patient’s clinical and financial data for a fuller picture of what that patient needs. This is crucial as changing consumer expectations, economic drivers, and new technology reshape how patients, providers and payers interact with one another. Checking underlying assumptions in any RCM process is essential to root out potential misunderstandings and outdated thinking. Not doing so leaves providers vulnerable to inaccurate financial projections, mismatched strategies and poor patient experiences.

See how Experian Health’s industry-leading Revenue Cycle Management Solutions make streamlined billing and collections a reality.

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