Rising health insurance deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are prompting many patients to become more active participants in their healthcare. In turn, healthcare providers and payers are increasingly focusing on strategies and tools to promote patient payments/engagement. There’s not a one-size-fits-all method for achieving this, but there are ways to humanize patient engagement to ensure these individuals don’t feel like just a number.
Ben Buchanan, Chief Marketing Officer for ImagineSoftware
Lauren Lewis, Marketing and Event Specialist for ImagineSoftware
Seeing Patients as Consumers
Businesses both large and small have for decades employed strategies to engage consumers. Such tactics often result in higher consumer loyalty and retention, giving companies a set population to whom to continue to market their products and/or services.
Defined as the means by which a company creates a relationship with its customer base to foster brand loyalty and awareness, customer engagement boosts brand experience, increases customer trust, provides valuable customer feedback and insight and augments sales funnel velocity. Although the healthcare industry has been a little late to the game, many providers and payers are now applying this approach to their patient outreach.
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists the top patient engagement factors as:
- Patients (demographic characteristics, health literacy)
- Health conditions (illness severity)
- Healthcare professionals (knowledge and attitudes)
- Tasks (whether a required patient safety behavior challenges clinicians’ clinical abilities)
- Healthcare setting (primary or secondary care)
Does setting patient engagement as a goal really produce that many benefits for providers and payers? According to research, it does.
As engaged customers typically boost a business’s retention rate and generate 1.7 times more revenue than normal customers, improving patient engagement has been linked to substantially reducing healthcare costs. Engaged patients are three times less likely to have unmet medical needs and twice as likely to seek care in a timely manner when compared those who aren’t an active participant in their care.
Patient Payment Solutions for Promoting Patient Engagement
Engaging patients doesn’t require complex processes and procedures, but a proactive and monitored approach often is necessary. From a billing perspective, it can be especially challenging when a patient dealt with a medical situation where the procedure or treatment wasn’t elective.
No matter the situation, communicating clearly with patients is essential. It’s also imperative that any written communication is conveyed to patients using their preferred method, whether that’s phone calls, email, text messaging or a combination.
For example, healthcare providers must be able to properly communicate patient balances in better, patient-facing statements. Ensuring clarity on those statements is paramount: What portion will be covered by the insurance? What portion remains the patient’s responsibility? If the patient is still responsible for payment, what is the easiest way to make that payment?
Billing staff must be trained to understand that communication with patients is not a “soft skill” but something that must become second-nature. This is especially crucial during time of service, when staff is face-to-face with patients. Front-office staff should fully explain financial policies, follow up with the patient if there is any confusion and be sure to use an appropriate tone.
If possible, communication with patients should be customized and each customer experience personalized. Providers and payers should ask their patients, both current and prospective, about their specific business needs and goals.
This customization doesn’t only apply to direct patient communication — it also should be employed in gathering and analyzing data. For instance, considering demographic data, the right data can determine a patient’s ability to pay. Proactive data-based billing can be vastly meaningful in patient engagement by not requiring individuals to navigate the healthcare system independently.
Other key areas in which healthcare providers and payers can focus to increase and maintain patient engagement are price transparency, payment options and point-of-care collections, all of which can be accomplished using various technology tools.
Approximately 75 percent of patients don’t know the cost of services until they receive a bill. More than 70 percent report that an upfront estimate would positively impact their view of a healthcare provider, and about 60 percent disclose being comfortable with an estimate.
For a patient to be truly engaged, he or she must first receive the necessary information to make an informed decision. This information includes a full cost estimate of the procedure or treatment in relation to the care they will receive.
Patients unsure of how much they owe their healthcare provider or how to pay their bill are more likely to be slower in paying. The ability to exceed patients’ expectations by sharing the cost of their care upfront allows them the ability to plan for their treatment.
Patient Payment Options
With healthcare bills ranging from a few dollars to several thousands of dollars, patients need multiple options to pay. By promoting payment plans, providers enable patients to pay off medical debt a little at a time instead of all at once. For providers, it’s another step in streamlining their collection process while obtaining more patient payments.
Utilizing an omnichannel approach combining all payment modalities (in-person, online, over the phone, etc.) ensures providers have the right tools for all patients. This approach:
- Allows the business to make edits (void, credit, refund, etc.) to that transaction regardless of the payment method
- Provides the patient with an up-to-date view of their payments — all in a single location
- Consolidates the entire payment experience
Digital forms of payment are becoming especially popular among millennials. Providers can take advantage of digital payment tools to convert from paper to electronic statements, electronic receipts, card-on-file capabilities and an online payment portal. These resources ensure the bad debt for providers decreases as patient engagement increases.
As noted by the American Medical Association, collecting amounts due from patients at the point of care (POC) offers multiple advantages for providers, including reducing accounts receivable, increasing cash flow, mitigating medical billing and back-end collection costs, decreasing the administrative burdens of tracking and writing off bad patient debt. This approach also enables providers to manage the growing portion of practice revenue generated from patient payments. Providers also can improve their patient collections by educating their staff on the importance of upfront collections and training around specific procedures, such as how to read eligibility screens
ImagineSoftware offers numerous solutions to help providers promote patient engagement. ImagineDiscovery™ coupled with HonorCare® providers the ability to show patients exactly what they’ll owe, and ImaginePay™ alleviates the patient payment posting burden.