Financial transparency: The key to patient satisfaction

April 10, 2019

How physicians can strengthen the patient financial experience.

Physicians must offer more than just clinical excellence to satisfy today’s patients. With high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and rising out-of-pocket costs, clinicians also must be prepared to provide a positive financial experience for patients. 

For most physicians, the phrase “financial experience” conjures thoughts of the billing office, where teams of revenue cycle experts work to secure reimbursement long after the clinical service has been rendered. In this traditional scenario, clinicians care for patients while the billing department manages the revenue cycle. Physicians have little control over whether their patients’ financial experience is positive or negative. 

Yet as patients start to shoulder more of their healthcare costs, patients are becoming healthcare “consumers,” and physicians-the people patients depend on most for their care-are becoming the ultimate “service providers.”

In any industry, being a great service provider requires a complete understanding of the buyer’s needs and the product or service being offered. While patients always expected physicians to be experts on their health, they now expect them to understand patient-responsible payments and look to them to answer basic questions about the cost of the care being offered.

Financial clarity improves perception

If we look at data surrounding patient satisfaction in the U.S., it’s startling how often the financial experience leads to dissatisfaction. In fact, nearly 61 percent of patients in one recent survey, rated their medical bills as “confusing” or “very confusing.”

It’s important to recognize that patients’ financial experience starts long before they ever step foot in an exam room or receive their bills. It starts by encouraging people to ask financial questions and be more aware of how care is paid for today. Patients appreciate the opportunity to discuss their clinical treatment options and how to pay for them at the same time. They want physicians to help them weigh not only the clinical risks and benefits of a treatment plan, but the financial risks and benefits as well. For example: Does the patient really want to undergo a costly surgery? Or would she prefer to first try a minimally invasive option that may take a little longer to achieve similar results, but is less expensive?  

Physicians should not let terrific clinical care be overshadowed by the last touchpoint patients have with the practice-the billing process. Rather, they should ensure that the transparent, compassionate experience extends all the way through their relationship with the patient.

How physicians can help

Physicians shouldn’t have to become expert financial counselors as well as expert clinicians. What they should do is become more conscious of the financial experience and be able to guide patients toward supportive revenue cycle resources. One way for physicians to strengthen the patient financial experience is to walk through it themselves, understand all of the potential resources available, and advocate for process improvements. For example:

  • Take a look at your own explanation of benefits statements. Make sure you understand the charges, adjudicated amounts, and patient payment designations well enough to explain to patients why they’re listed and what they mean.

  • Consider the revenue cycle staffing resources within your organization.With the support of a strong revenue cycle management (RCM) team, physicians don’t need to be financial authorities. They simply need to know how to put their patients in touch with staff who are willing and able to answer patients’ financial questions and help them access available resources. 

  • Examine the tools your RCM team offers to help patients navigate the financial side of their care prior to receiving care. For example, technologies that estimate a patient’s total out-of-pocket costs can go a long way toward a more satisfactory end-to-end experience. By electronically requesting insurance plan coverage details for each individual patient, utilizing digital reimbursement modeling, and providing personalized digital financial counseling, technology enables the RCM team to provide excellent customer service. 

  • Make post-visit payments easy. After arming patients with financial knowledge, practices must then offer patients convenient ways to pay. Consider RCM technological capabilities that let patients see all of their healthcare invoices in one easy-to-navigate application, pay online from their mobile devices, or make payment plan arrangements that work for them. As a percentage of overall revenue, patients now represent a significant payer segment for practices-and one that will only continue to grow due to increases in HDHP deductibles and self-pay. It’s critical to make it easy for patients to pay for their services and pay sooner.

Greater satisfaction, better care: Everyone benefits

The very concept of “patient financial experience” is rooted in an evolving healthcare market. Now that patients are paying more out of pocket for their healthcare, they care how much it costs. They no longer separate clinical and financial experiences. 

By helping patients understand the cost of their care, what to expect, and how the practice can assist them, physicians can improve patient satisfaction and loyalty. With the support of a dedicated and technology-enabled RCM team, physicians can give their patients the cost transparency they desire and a more wholly satisfying care experience. 

Joe Polaris, MBA, is senior vice president of product and technology for R1 RCM.