Patients first. We agree there is no better way to operate a healthcare organization. May we ask, then, what happens when patients pass under your exit sign and the remaining interactions you have with them are financial in nature, not face to face?
Are you still putting your patient first?
The patient statement is a major touchpoint that bridges the actual healthcare visit with the financial experience, and it is one that needs to be refreshed with frequency. While making patient statements “friendly” isn’t a new concept (see the HFMA’s Patient Friendly Billing Project that is driving providers to enhance the patient experience by creating bills that are clear, concise, and correct), many healthcare organizations struggle to know exactly what constitutes "friendly", how to create it, and what impact it can have.
Sending clear, easy-to-read, well-designed statements to patients on an established cycle not only increases the efficiency of receiving payments, but it also effectively captures self pay revenue while improving the patient financial experience on the whole.
Creating the perfect mix of easy-to-read with just the right amount of information is practically an art form. We’ve broken it down here into six components that are integral to the end-goal of making statements patient friendly.
1. Put brand and balance front and center
There should be no question about who is sending the statement. Your patient should know immediately — even by the envelope if it’s a paper statement — who it is from. With the statement unfolded, the reader’s eye should first focus on your brand identity (logo) and then be drawn to the balance due. Design your statement and use color to call immediate attention to these two most important points of interest. If your patient has to search for the balance due, if he is confused whether he actually even owes a balance, or if he isn’t sure who exactly the statement is from, his first impression will be immediately negative.
Here are three extra tips, just for the amount due field. (Who knew there could be such a science to this?):
- Make the call-out for the balance owed in the most visible color
- Place the amount due above the fold or the accordion of your statement
- Highlight the amount due again in the payment coupon using the same visible color
- Show a clear due date to set the expectation
2. Clearly list the multiple ways to pay and mind your tone
Clear instructions explaining the multiple ways your patients can pay reinforces how easy and convenient you make the financial experience for your patients. This is especially true when you offer self-service options such as mobile payment apps, payment interactive voice response (IVR), and an online payment portal, alongside more traditional options like calling to speak with a patient representative to resolve payment or mailing a check. Your patients’ payment preferences vary, so your payment options must also vary. Make sure that the contact number for the billing office is prominent, with wording that makes it clear that it is for questions.
With smartphone technology, it’s important to include mobile payment applications that use QR codes (quick response matrix barcode) as the first option to make payment. This increases convenience and makes the statement look clean.
Beyond design, language and tone can make or break the patient’s urgency and willingness to respond. In fact, your choice of phrasing can create a sense of willing urgency to pay, or it can have a negative effect, angering or frustrating the patient, which may lead to a delay in payment, among other issues.
One methodology often overlooked is to use new/different language every time you send a statement. Use a softer approach for earlier statements and more insistent language with bolding, underlining, or perhaps using red font colors to draw the patient’s attention to the message on the statement if the account continues to escalate in age through the statement cycle process.
We strongly encourage you to err on the side of friendly. After all, it’s a person on the receiving end who deserves to be treated with respect, regardless of his willingness to pay. If you make the billing statement process as outstanding as the care he received at your facility, you can leave the role of the hardcore collection to agencies designed to do just that. (Yet, by following these practices, fewer patient accounts will end up in collections).
3. Eliminate the credit card coupon box
To mitigate the risk of theft, misuse, or unauthorized access to credit card data, eliminate the credit card box. This encourages patients to either call to make a payment or use a payment IVR or online payment portal, which gives you access to their cash days faster. This action also reduces the PCI compliance risk, enhancing patient financial safety.
4. Avoid confusion about the portion of the balance covered by insurance
Patients are frequently confused about what portion of their care was paid for by their insurance, and they often mistake their explanation of benefits to be a bill. A patient-friendly statement must distinguish between what was billed, the payment amount approved by the insurance, the contractual adjustment, and what the patient owes. That said, there is a balance between enough information to answer questions, and too much information, which creates confusion. Using columns is the key to creating a neat, easy-to-read history of transactions, as in the example above: charges, payments, adjustments, amount due.
5. Provide information and tools to help patients better understand how they can meet their financial responsibilities
As patient deductibles continue to rise, a main source of worry for patients who receive a large balance bill is wondering how they will meet their patient responsibility. Providing payment plan solutions and referencing your online payment negotiator or a phone number to call to discuss potential financial assistance alleviates immediate patient concerns and informs them that there are other options available.
A note about statement frequency: Send the billing statement every thirty days — day 1, day 30, day 60, and day 90. If you haven’t received any patient payments within 120 days from the first statement, we recommend involving a third-party collection agency, as the probability of payment has diminished considerably.
The Bottom Line
Each organization should schedule an annual review of their patient billing statements to reflect any internal changes and update to best practices to avoid becoming obsolete in the current market. Use the above components along with patient feedback to improve your billing statements. Your concise, easy-to-read design with your payment options clearly visible will ultimately increase self-pay revenue.
We’ve emphasized how important your billing statement is for your patient’s overall experience, but it’s also important to remember that your billing statement is just a small portion of a larger process. We can’t stress enough the importance of a coordinated outbound calling campaign alongside the statements. Further, every patient interaction is an opportunity to collect your payment. Setting new appointments, reminders for existing appointments, any other inquiry in which you have your patient’s attention on the phone or in-person should be used to remind them of their balance and ask if they would like to take care of it or a portion of it, today.