When healthcare leaders put their heads together and strategize how to improve healthcare experiences for patients, much of the focus tends to be on improving clinical processes and facilities. However, one area that patients suggest needs improvement is the financial side of the patient experience. Here are three problems patients say need to be fixed in order to elevate the financial experience for patients:
Problem #1: Healthcare bills often catch patients by surprise.
Healthcare is unique because consumers often don’t have a choice in whether they want to purchase a service for a particular price. In fact, three out of four times, patients don’t know the cost of healthcare services until after they have received a bill. And more than one in four patients (26%) report that healthcare bills are less predictable than other bills. This unpredictability can be frustrating and put financial stress on patients.
Solution: Healthcare teams can use their patient engagement technology to send automated messages to patients in order to communicate about potential healthcare costs. For example, healthcare teams can follow up after appointments and send messages to let patients know when to expect a bill, or that they may owe money out of pocket if their annual deductible hasn’t been met. Messages like these can be helpful for encouraging patients to think about and plan for healthcare expenses before bills arrive.
Problem #2: For patients, bills don’t always clarify their financial obligations.
Receiving a bill doesn’t always clarify patient payment obligations. It is common for patients to look at their bills and still not know what portion they owe versus what insurance will pay. Even doctors admit healthcare bills are difficult to understand. A recent West survey of 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S. found that 61 percent of healthcare providers agree that healthcare bills are more confusing than other bills. Because bills can be hard to decode, patients need more information about what is covered and not covered by insurance.
Solution: A simple step that healthcare teams can take to help educate patients about their financial obligations is to use automated communications—like email, text message or voicemail—to share information about covered preventive services. When providers communicate which exams and screenings are required to be covered by insurance, for example, it can help make it easier for patients to understand their medical bills.
Problem #3: Outside of bills or past due notices, providers often don’t communicate with patients about financial topics.
Patients would like more support from healthcare providers in order to make healthcare costs easier to understand. More than one in five patients (21%) say there is not enough communication from providers between in-person interactions in healthcare. Patients think better communication could help alleviate financial-related confusion and frustration.
Solution: There are more opportunities for healthcare teams to communicate with patients about healthcare costs than most providers realize. Even something as simple as sending an appointment reminder message to verify the date and time of an appointment creates an opportunity for providers to communicate about costs. For example, providers may want to expand appointment reminder messages to incorporate language that lets patients know that if their insurance requires a copay, it will be due at check-in. This extra bit of communication helps minimize surprise costs for patients and helps them better prepare for healthcare expenses.
Unfortunately, West’s survey revealed that 72 percent of patients feel strongly or somewhat that healthcare is falling behind other industries when it comes to delivering exceptional experiences. And, according to patients, frustration over healthcare bills is a primary factor. For a closer look at some of the problems hurting healthcare experiences, along with solutions to help fix them, download When Billing Breaks the Patient Experience: Communication Strategies for Resolving Patients’ Financial Frustrations.