Hospitals and healthcare systems constantly seek the most effective strategies to achieve improved health outcomes, better patient care, and lower healthcare costs.
One effective strategy is improving patient engagement. It’s essential to the overall viability of the healthcare ecosystem. But why is patient engagement a valuable strategy and how does it affect your hospital’s efficiency?
The Patient Engagement Strategy
Engaging your patients in their own healthcare not only produces outcomes leading to healthier, more invested people but also can improve your hospital’s bottom line. By treating patients as true partners in their own care, hospitals also see an improvement in patient payments. A positive, proactive approach by providers results in patients with better opinions about their care and improved attitudes about the cost of treatment.
Comprehensive and Efficient
There are no silver bullets in healthcare, but adopting deliberate strategies can help organizations become more profitable and effective. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, healthcare leaders should look at every decision based on its ability to add value to the organization and to the patients it serves. The most effective strategies will improve outcomes in the long term. One of the best ways to ensure this longevity and success is to improve patient engagement as an organizing principle while considering improvement strategies. Here are some examples of how improving patient engagement is critical no matter which strategy your healthcare system is implementing:
- Integrated Practice Units (IPUs)
Patients do not exist in silos, and Integrated Practice Units focus on the overall well-being of a patient rather than fixing a single problem. However, when a patient is treated for multiple illnesses and conditions, they most likely will experience additional time with providers, multiple avenues of communication, and face numerous and confusing medical bills. No matter how complete the care, if a patient is overwhelmed or unsatisfied with communication from the hospital or their patient payment experience, there will not be positive outcomes in patient retention
- Strategic Expansion
Hospital expansion into new regions is often necessary to meet today’s healthcare needs, but simply increasing volume isn’t the answer. An emerging geographic expansion model involves a parent company leasing space in community clinics. These partnerships provide expertise to regional facilities, which can improve patient outcomes. When expanding into regional areas, providers are addressing the health disparities rural populations often face. However, these providers must also be able to offer flexibility, such as payment options or flexible payment schedules, to ensure peace of mind for new patients.
- Seamless Information Technology Platform
A proper data system will allow IPUs to collaborate across different floors of a hospital or between facilities miles apart. The information a clinician needs is at their fingertips. A well-designed system connects the healthcare revenue cycle, so staff members and patients can more easily track bills and payments. However, decisions regarding these platforms must take the patient’s experience into account as well. More efficient platforms will reduce time for patients at check-in, provide them with streamlined and accurate communication from their provider, and be able to reconcile all health and payment data as quickly as possible. This seamlessness of a hospital’s data system is crucial in informed patient decision-making.
This may seem like a difficult time to consider changing how hospitals conduct business. The Covid-19 pandemic has stressed people’s wallets and hospitals’ bottom lines. A patient-centered approach starts with simply recognizing the realities at play.
When healthcare scares hit close to home, people aren’t thinking about taking on medical debt. They simply want to be made whole again. Quality care is essential to patient engagement, but how long can a medical facility continue to deliver that care if it can’t collect payments? A forward-thinking approach to the patient’s financial experience can take the bite out of that question.
Collecting patient payments has been a challenge for decades. As of July 1, 2022, the three major credit reporting agencies in the US instituted changes in how medical collection accounts are reported, making it even more difficult for hospitals and health systems to collect payments once a patient has left the building.
The new rules around medical debt reporting state:
- Paid medical collection debt will no longer be reported.
- The period before unpaid medical collection debt will appear on a patient’s credit report will increase from six months to one year.
- Beginning in spring 2023, patient debt collection under $500 will no longer be included on credit reports.
Hospitals still face ongoing financial challenges in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Most healthcare organizations are just now seeing patients resuming non-critical procedures. This delay in services has severely strained healthcare staff, resources, and finances.
To top things off, consumers in the US have seen a drastic increase in healthcare copays and deductibles in the past five years. This increase has caused a huge shift in the revenue cycle strategy of most healthcare providers. The average American cannot afford a $100 medical bill, causing providers to shift collection efforts to a pre-service initiative.
These challenges require a willingness to change. If providing value is the overriding goal, then flexibility is a prime place to start. Options like discounts, loans, financial counseling, and payment plans treat patients as individuals with specific needs. It is a giant step away from the one-size-fits-all approach and seeks to turn patients into true partners concerning their healthcare and their financial responsibility.
Improving the Patient Financial Experience
The patient financial experience is a way to bring value to patients and healthcare organizations. Many patients make decisions regarding their healthcare providers based on first encounters and final impressions. Research shows that office staff have as much impact on patients’ attitudes and opinions as clinicians. The billing and collecting process is not only a necessity, it’s the last chance to make a good impression. If the experience is lacking or leaves the patient in doubt, it may discourage a return visit.
Households bear an ever-increasing burden of healthcare expenses. Family premiums averaged $21,342 in 2020. This increases the need for providers to offer affordability options that can have a profound impact on the patient relationship. Continuing to provide value after care has been delivered can give patients the peace of mind that comes with knowing there are answers to their problems. It’s about creating a partnership dedicated to reducing stress while also increasing payments.
Increased ownership and involvement in how patients pay their bills are essential to engagement. The benefits of this engagement are myriad and symbiotic.
Overall patient engagement improves the patient’s financial experience. A patient who is more engaged in the healthcare process is naturally more concerned with keeping current on the financial end of the experience. Patients who understand their medical bills and can easily pay without issues are more likely to give better patient satisfaction scores. This increases the probability of a return visit and positive word-of-mouth referrals.
Patient financial experience has a direct correlation to patient engagement. A more seamless financial experience allows patients to focus on the positives of their healthcare experience instead of what could traditionally have been a frustration delivered via their mailbox weeks later. Patients who understand their financial obligations in advance of a medical appointment are more prepared to meet those obligations.
Increased patient engagement can be a direct line to increased revenue and collections. Personalizing the healthcare experience engages the patient in their medical journey. Rather than being treated as mere consumers, they become part of their own healthcare team when the process is demystified.
Electronic communication early and often in the patient journey improves everything along the way. Electronic payment systems have greatly improved the patient financial experience by moving away from the days when bills were handled through the mail. Providers no longer have to print and mail an invoice, and patients are no longer restricted to paying with checks. They now have the option to pay, securely, in whichever way they choose: in person, by mail, online, by phone, by text, or via an app.
Many patients have trouble understanding what they owe due to the complexity of the process, despite advancements in billing technology. According to a 2019 report, 70% of consumers are confused by their medical bills.
The disconnect between consumer expectations and payment transparency deeply affects the healthcare industry. Clarity is an essential value that organizations can provide their patients.
HealthPay24’s patient payment solution offers an all-in-one technology that automates workflows and processes and consolidates bills to make payments simple for the patient. By logging in to the payment portal, patients can:
- Make quick online payments on new and prior balances.
- Set up payment plans.
- Enroll in electronic notifications.
- Take advantage of discounts offered by your healthcare organization.
HealthPay24 also offers pay-by-phone and text options. This doesn’t mean the patient is left on their own, however. HealthPay24 offers direct communication with the patient regarding their billing, taking the burden off the administrative team. The communication is seamless and automatic. Reminders and notifications are offered via text and email.
Improved patient engagement prevents non-payments from going into bad debt. Offering patients a modern payment platform they’re familiar and comfortable with helps them stay current on payments. Patients generally prefer to stay up-to-date and feel ownership of their healthcare.
Just as an IPU team deals with the whole patient in the clinical setting, office staff need the ability to treat patients as individuals with specific needs. HealthPay24 transforms the patient payment experience by providing simple and clear options. Flexibility reduces the chances of an account going to a third-party collections agency.
Adding Options, Adding Value
HealthPay24 integrates with any estimation tool so patients can get notified when an estimate is ready and a payment can be made before their appointment. It allows them to make payments before they see a clinician, and the money posts into the providers’ accounts receivable within minutes. Healthcare organizations do not have to hold-to-post with payments made off the estimate. HealthPay24 is the only patient engagement platform that offers this feature.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41% of US adults have health care debt. As copays and deductibles continue to rise, so does the need for affordable options for your patients. Affordability options give patients peace of mind that they can afford the care they need and increases the probability of the patient seeking necessary care. Giving patients a variety of ways to meet their obligations is a bedrock value of patient engagement. Consider making these options available:
- Payment Plans
- Setting patient expectations for what they owe over time, and for how long, increases the likelihood of receiving these payments on time. Hospitals that put patients on a payment plan are 30% more likely to receive payments.
- Offering discounts increases the likelihood of patients paying at the time of service. HealthPay24 enables organizations to offer discounts directly through the provider portal. Providers can offer discounts based on variables like location, date, holiday, or season.
- Non-Recourse Loans
- These loans present lower risk and are available within HealthPay24’s platform. Patients can choose consumer-friendly loans for longer-term payment needs. This loan solution funds the provider the transaction amount within 48 hours without any provider liability or default.
- Financial Counseling
- Counseling is essential for any patient or payment selection. A more informed patient is a more satisfied patient. HealthPay24 enables you to engage patients to uncover solutions to their financial responsibility. Easily communicate available loan programs, initiate discounts, and other financial resources that are accessible to your patients.
Benefits of HealthPay24
HealthPay24 integrates with any estimation tool and pulls estimates into the patient portal so the patient can be notified as soon as an estimate has been posted. The patient can then begin making payments based on the estimate, allowing them to incorporate these payments into their budget immediately, instead of being surprised by a bill weeks later.
The patient portal allows for many types of payment while also simplifying the transaction. Patients can pay by text, app, phone, online, or cash. HealthPay24 is PCI and P2PE compliant, so patients can feel secure entering their payment information.
Automation makes life easier for staff members responsible for collections. When relieved of the burden of manual entry, staff can focus on growing the business and maintaining an organized front-of-house.
Patient engagement is crucial to the function and well-being of the healthcare ecosystem. HealthPay24 offers the opportunity to increase patient engagement by offering many benefits other platforms lack. In an ever-changing healthcare environment, patients value flexibility. The overarching goal is to create partnerships built on trust and mutual respect that promote improved health outcomes, better patient care, and lower healthcare costs.