U.S. employers who provide health insurance last year transferred all premium increases to employees for the first time, according to healthcare analysts. With patients shouldering more responsibility for those costs, a fundamental change is sweeping the healthcare industry. In fact, patients’ payment responsibility has grown by 300 percent in the past five years, and most providers are only just beginning to experience the impact that this shift has had on their relationships with patients.
Many healthcare organizations consider the lifetime value of their patient base as a primary financial lever in capital transactions and debt ratings. Healthcare is a zero-sum game because when you lose a patient, your competitor gains one. As a result of that dynamic, patient loyalty is critical to your long-term profitability.
Typically, healthcare organizations receive payments from health plans that arrive quickly and reliably and don’t require specialized software. As responsibility shifts, most providers haven’t yet developed the tools and processes required to manage a large number of diverse patient payers. And they have failed to address the fundamental reasons that patients often don’t pay: poor communication and education, confusing invoices, and limited payment options.
Working effectively with patients who owe money is a tricky proposition. However, the right communications strategy would engage a diverse set of patients in a way that’s highly personalized, respectful, and easy to understand. The right message to the right customer at the right time, and through the right channel, greatly increases patient satisfaction and your response rate. A few best practices include:
Communicate early. Don’t reach out to patients only when they owe money. Before an invoice is ever sent, you should educate patients on what to expect and provide an overview of available services, notify them about any pieces of missing account information, and inquire about any questions. Doing so would eliminate much of the initial confusion and simplify the process for patients when an invoice does arrive.
Let your customer choose the best way to reach them. If your only channel for communications is through the phone, you may alienate a customer who doesn’t want to be called. Plus, you may not be able to reach and interact effectively with a customer who travels or is hard to get on the phone. Your strategy should include a combination of multiple channels, such as phone, email, SMS text messages, or fax.
Be highly interactive. Regardless of which communication channel is used, consumers want a real-time dialogue. Instead of a basic notification that forces a patient to make an inconvenient call to the contact center, let the patient choose from among multiple options—such as connecting automatically to their nurse or doctor—all during the call or via text message.
Automate. Automated communications can complement your existing resources, making them more effective, and provide a more cost-effective way to engage. Using that approach, companies can routinely achieve results far above outcomes when using agents to manually call patients. Why? It’s faster and simpler to deal with an automated message. And, when dealing with a live agent, patients sometimes will promise to pay just to get off the phone. Automated communications do not “push” for promises to pay, instead offering patients the option professionally and courteously at exactly the right time, as defined by best practices and business rules.
Get meaningful customer data back. The more you know about your customers, the better you can tailor future messages. Make sure you capture any preferences (such as what time of day they prefer to be called) and apply these insights to future interactions, keeping your messages personalized and relevant for each patient.
Healthcare institutions must begin to operate as other retail service providers—designing experiences and delivering care around the convenience of consumers rather than the preferences of providers. There’s a major opportunity to improve collection outcomes and the overall patient experience at the same time. The right strategy will bridge the gap between the need for patient payments and delivering a good patient experience.
Gregory VandenBosch is President and Founder of MedDirect. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. VandenBosch helps healthcare providers increase patient-pay revenue, enhance their patient’s pre- and post-clinical experience, and streamline operations. Previously, VandenBosch worked in the banking industry and the hospitality sector.
Kael Kelly is Senior Director of Varolii and can be reached at email@example.com. Kelly brings more than 15 years of experience translating customer needs and market data into the company's marketing strategy. Prior to joining Varolii, Kelly held positions in the software and telecommunications industries in market research, product marketing, and customer relationship management.