Why Proactive Consumer Financial Engagement is Essential Post COVID-19

March 25, 2021
Richard Lopez del Rincon, Senior Vice President, Office-Based Physicians at R1 RCM

Tips detailing how your practice can ensure it delivers the consumer experience patients are demanding.

Just one year ago, all medical practices were completely thrown off course by COVID-19 and the unprecedented drop in patient volume it created. In just a matter of weeks, business operations were completely derailed as providers quickly devised new processes and workflows, as well as digital resources to ensure patient safety. This article highlights a few of the takeaways from this past year, trends that are here to stay and tips detailing how your practice can ensure it delivers the consumer experience patients are demanding.

Given the current healthcare landscape we’re now all too familiar with, it’s hard to believe that before COVID-19 hit the U.S. only 15% of practices were using telehealth for patient care. Telehealth use has since skyrocketed, increasing by 3,060% as of October 2020and representing 5.61% of all “claim lines” (services listed on an insurance claim), compared to 0.18% the previous October. The telehealth industry projects continued growth with the market size reaching more than $396 billion in 2027 – up from almost $80 billion in 2020.

Contactless pre-registration, virtual check-in and online payment options also became standard operating procedures. Not only were these utilized to avoid unnecessary contact but also to optimize capacity and decrease the amount of time staff spent on managing the registration process, freeing them up for more pressing patient service needs.

Completing administrative tasks digitally is a long-awaited process improvement that will undoubtedly remain an essential component to healthcare delivery – especially considering that 51% of patients said they would choose a doctor based on who would let them fill out paperwork online prior to a visit.

Practices also had to address a major shift in patient mentality that became a primary driver: fear. Specifically, fear of contracting COVID-19, as well as around job security and insurance coverage. Over 50% of households reported that a family member skipped or delayed care due to COVID-19, highlighting the fact that practices had to start actively communicating with patients. Practices needed to communicate their new socially distanced procedures and financial planning support to help build back volumes and reassure patients it was safe to return to their care facilities.

All these COVID-19 takeaways confirm the patient mindset has irrevocably changed. To rebuild patient volume and ensure practices can retain these patients, organizations need strong operational strategies and workflows that start with the revenue cycle.

An end-to-end revenue cycle approach puts the patient first and enables practices to have key financial conversations upfront, creating shared expectations and preventing surprise billing. This is important given that two-thirds of Americans say they worry about being able to afford unexpected medical bills.

Practices that initiate these interactions during pre-screening ensure that patients are educated on financial responsibility. This can include sharing information regarding what they owe, payment due dates and additional resources or payment plans available if needed. It also allows patients to complete all registration tasks from the safety of their homes, or any location they prefer, while using their mobile devices.

This gives patients the streamlined consumer experience they expect and deserve, improving financial communication from the start to make patients feel protected and supported throughout their care journey. In turn, proactive patient financial engagement helps practices reduce days in A/R since payment responsibility is outlined upfront and necessary personal and financial information is collected directly from the patient early on, eliminating any billing or collection errors later on.

A technology-driven, end-to-end approach also makes sure that key revenue cycle services, such as coding, billing and collections, are running smoothly. By applying automation to internal workflows, typical variation is removed, and revenue cycle work can be completed faster and with less errors since it eliminates unnecessary steps and there is less reliance on humans to carry out labor-intensive, time-consuming tasks. As a result, key operations like claims management and patient collections can be standardized, which improves overall outcomes at a lower cost. Having this type of highly functional operating structure allows practices to shield patients from the complexities of the revenue cycle while ensuring typical frustrations like inaccurate bills and payment errors do not occur.

Providers are working in a difficult environment that is completely different from the healthcare landscape many have grown accustomed to. To remain profitable and gain a competitive advantage, practices need to be proactive in their efforts to secure, educate and retain patients, and be ready to give them what they want: digital resources and an overall sense of ease when it comes to the financial side of healthcare.

A technology-driven revenue cycle partner can help restructure and transform internal operations to meet these objectives, while keeping sustainable financial performance top of mind. Finding the right balance between maintaining a practice’s financial health and meeting consumer demands is no easy task, but with the right resources and structure in place, practices can position themselves for long-term success in a forever-changing healthcare market.

Richard Lopez del Rincon is senior vice president at R1 RCM