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Physicians should not think the entire healthcare experience is done after the patient leaves the office
No matter how excellent a patient’s experience in a clinical visit, communications around billing can ruin everything, says Florian Otto, MD, PhD, CEO and co-founder of Cedar, patient engagement and financial technology platform, based in New York City, NY.
“Physicians should not think the entire healthcare experience is done after the patient leaves the office,” Otto says. He cites a study from Becker’s Hospital Review that found patient satisfaction measured 60 days after discharge drops by 30 percent. “What happens after 60 days? They receive their bills,” he says.
Patients are unlikely to separate out their clinical experience from their financial experience, he explains. “The patient sees the entire healthcare visit as one.”
Otto says that patients have become habituated to personalized consumer experiences that make payment easy in other industries, from Amazon to Uber, and will carry that into their medical experience. “There’s this saying that your best experience anywhere becomes your expectations everywhere,” Otto says. “We need to implement what is done outside of healthcare and in the medical side to billing.”
The solution, he says, is to personalize communications to meet the patient where they are, a concept known as “unscaling” where the one-size-fits-all approach of the past is abandoned in favor of getting to know patient’s needs and catering to them.
“We believe every patient is different and needs to be reached and contacted through different channels and messaging.” He recommends a multi modal strategy, using texting, emails, phone calls and paper statements based on information about how patients engage with their bills.
He explains that if a patient is logging on to view their bill online and then drops away without payment, the next message might be to ask if the patient has had trouble understanding their bill. Or, if a patient logs on to view their bill and gets all the way to checkout but doesn’t pay, the next message might ask if the patient has had problems with payment and will send a link to financing options. Or if a patient switched from English to Spanish when viewing their bill, the next outreach will be in Spanish.
Of course this ability to tailor outreach to patients relies upon having good data and analytics. “[Outreach] is only as good as the underlying data. If physicians don’t get demographic information, or consent to text for billing purposes, etc, it will take some work on the back end to solve these problems.”
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is further changing patient expectations. Many people now want a touchless experience, from checking in and registering at a doctor’s office, to signing forms and paying bills. Physicians will want to make sure they are being creative in these solutions.
Furthermore, many people have been furloughed or lost jobs during this time, which might also mean a loss of income and medical benefits. He recommends physicians engage in “compassionate billing” where patients have hardship. “Physicians need to offer them more opportunities to pay, such as a payment plan or a discount. Make it digestible for the patient, rather than asking for everything up front.”
“A happy patient is a loyal patient and comes back to the physician. This administrative part can be the differentiator,” Otto says.