Healthcare providers have seen a surge in high-deductible health plans, imposing a significantly higher financial burden on patients to pay for services up front. Struggling to deal with point-of-service collections while managing cost, providers are embracing new consumer-centric tools and services aimed at helping with both. Some are offering user-friendly credit options to patients in need of financing.
Financing options, once reserved for elective procedures such as cosmetic or laser eye surgery, are being extended to essential healthcare services. Providers should look to the retail industry for ideas on how to segment their customers and be prepared to educate these new consumers on the variety of options that are available to them. Hospitals have increased the ranks of Patient Financial Counselors to walk patients through the myriad of options—commercial insurer or self-pay, eligibility for charity care or other subsidy programs, payment installment plans, early pay discounts, etc.
Many of you may recognize these programs. What can the retail and hospitality industries teach us? If we accept the premise that healthcare is becoming more and more like a consumer-driven business, where consumers will have a choice of where they shop and where things like brand equity, convenience, and client satisfaction really matter, then we need to apply that line of thinking to every patient interaction. How you approach someone under 40 will be different than someone over 65. One size will not fit all—it’s all about options based on your demographic mix. The under-40 crowd will utilize all the tools available to them to find the best value/service blend. Make those options a selling point—just like you hear retailers today—layaway plans, low/no interest loans, financial planning for major procedures. Those over 65 will want much more personal interactions and hand-holding. Offering them a kiosk will probably fall flat.
Don’t make the financial plan a mystery for patients—tell them up front that you’ll be just as compassionate with their financial health as you will be with their clinical health.
This sea change in patient interaction requires a much higher level of knowledge for your patient access and accounting/billing staff than has traditionally been the case. They need a much more holistic view of the consumer walking in their door (or on the phone) if you want them to convey the confidence that they will be dealing with a person that understands their personal situation (financial posture, health insurance, self-pay portion) and can help them navigate their options. This requires a combination of good tools (with accurate information) and a higher level of competency—you want thinkers, not robots quoting from a policy manual. Guess what—you’ll need to pay them more if you expect to get the staffing quality that can do this (CFOs won’t want to hear that) and have a robust education program to get everyone up to the same level of confidence. However, as soon as you tie reimbursement to quality and satisfaction scores, and connect satisfaction to all patient encounters (not just clinical encounters), then the math becomes much more obvious.
Patients have choices—make your organization the obvious one.
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