Ah… the patient financial experience. You would never argue that it’s unimportant, but are you truly making it a natural, full-time priority within your organization? With the increase in patients paying out of pocket comes an increase in patient interactions. More calls. More questions. More opportunities for you to “do right” by and for your patients.
Like adding a sprinkle of salt on a cookie, sometimes the smallest tweaks to current processes have the greatest effect on patients’ perception of the care and financial experience they receive from your organization. We’ve compiled a shortlist of small changes that can be implemented today and can add up to gains in both revenue and patient satisfaction.
Let data drive your decisions
Does your business office receive a large number of patient complaints? Which way are your Press Ganey scores trending? How much training and experience does your business office staff have collectively in customer service and how are they measuring up to your QA criteria? Tracking these and other metrics will help you identify whether any areas in your workflow require a second look.
Train and then empower staff to solve problems
If patients feel like they are not being heard, or if their issues aren’t being taken seriously, take a new approach and train your staff how to respond — everything from the words they use to the tone they choose. If supervisors are spending time on escalated calls, note the trends and then train to empower your front-line staff to solve the issues sooner, more completely, and always respectfully. The ideal customer service representative should have both the knowledge and the confidence to solve patient questions, and he or she should know precisely who to ask to for assistance when needed to ensure progress is made toward resolution.
Don’t allow any issue to stagnate
Rather, continuously take steps —even if they are baby steps — toward resolution. Patients don’t like to wait. They don’t want to wait for their physician, and they don’t want to wait for answers to their billing questions, as this is usually perceived as “getting the runaround.” When you plan for complaints, you’ll no longer view them as a hassle or an interruption but rather an opportunity to help patients understand why they owe a balance. Armed with knowledge, most patients want to (and will) pay.
Keep the patient at the center of your billing practice
Helping a patient understand his or her financial responsibility requires your representatives to combine their knowledge, empathy and kindness with clarity in communication. The best patient-facing teams combine strong interpersonal and analytical skills with high-end technologies — for example, propensity to pay, used internally, or a payment portal, used externally — to give patients a financial experience that is not only quick and convenient, but also reminds them that they are valued.
Ask for patient feedback
To improve a process, it’s important to consider the perspective of the patient population for whom the process is in place. Implementing a patient survey at the end of each call or requesting patients to provide feedback through an online survey is a proactive way to directly understand how well you are doing in patient satisfaction. On the inside, recording all calls for quality assurance and regularly auditing calls will provide a detailed snapshot of what your staff is doing well and where they may need guidance.
Think broadly and ask questions
Every decision you make about your systems, processes, people, and even financial metrics have some level of patient impact. Here are a few thought-provoking questions that will help you keep your patient focus every step of the way.
Has your organization recently gone through a system conversion or major administrative change? If so, there is always going to be a new learning curve and there needs to be time allotted for staff to get up to speed, especially those in patient-facing roles.
How quick is your claim turnaround and what are the average days in A/R? This insurance-based information may seem disconnected from the patient experience, but if the patient doesn’t receive a bill for months it will create confusion and more questions for the billing office.
Is there a backlog with charge entry? Or are there repeated errors on the front end, i.e., registration, demographics, insurance? Your front end staff may not be aware of errors they are making, sometimes repeatedly, that are hindering your revenue cycle performance through claim edits and clearinghouse rejections.
Do you have staff solely designated to review issues and processes? What is the timeline for a decision on a dispute review? Follow up account reviews and disputes in a timely manner. Doing so sends a positive message to patients about how much you care.
How long are your call wait times, hold times, abandonment rates? Convenience and ease of getting through to a representative are huge factors in creating a positive experience with your patients.
The Bottom Line
Take into consideration all of the above points and note your biggest problem areas, or where you feel like your revenue cycle could be enhanced. And allow the answers you discover to lead you to more questions, because the patient financial experience isn’t just a “thing” — it’s a journey.