Want to learn how to improve patient satisfaction? Arm patients with facts prior to service, provide options

By Brett Palmer, Senior Vice President, Front & Middle Services Delivery | Posted: 09/21/2018

How To Improve Patient Satisfaction

How you interact with patients before you provide services goes a long way toward their overall satisfaction, not to mention willingness to pay. Up to 56 percent of self pay patients express dissatisfaction with the amount of cost information available to them prior to services being rendered1, and 70 percent are confused by medical bills2.

With an 82 percent increase in health insurance deductibles from 2009 to 20172placing more of the burden for payment on patients' revenue, it is understandable that today’s health care consumer wants an accurate accounting of their cost liability before they receive care. They also want time and flexibility when planning their payment strategy, with 47 percent expressing interest in alternative patient payment solutions such as mobile payment systems2.

Organizations and health care solutions that are unable to provide a firm accounting of out-of-pocket hospital costs, as well as ways to manage the financial impact, just add stress on top of the patient’s physical challenges, which can ultimately show up in HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores. Those with low scores are at risk of reduced patient reimbursements, especially as industry shifts to value-based care models, while higher scoring organizations are seeing their margins increase per a 10 percent increase in their HCAHPS score3, indicating patients are more willing to pay if they are confident they are being given accurate information.

Better estimating

A good starting place to better serve patients’ financial management questions and challenges is better upfront estimating. While it may seem simple, especially when compared with other industries, delivering an accurate and complete health care estimate is no simple matter, especially for organizations that lack the required expertise and healthcare solutions.

However, if health care providers are to expect patients to pay at the time of service, they must also make sure their estimates are accurate and complete. Under or over estimating on costs can have an equally negative impact.

For instance, when charges are over estimated – sometimes dramatically – many organizations will ask patients for an upfront deposit, only to refund a portion later on. Some also use patient decision support tools to determine if the patient’s deductible has been met, however, if not tied to their specific patient contract, the self pay patient may actually owe less after discounts are applied.

Equally damaging to patient satisfaction is grossly underestimating a patient’s out-of-pocket obligation, resulting in surprise charges. For instance, if you tell a patient that they are only required to pay $100 upfront, and they pay it on good faith, then you bill them another $100, it’s not difficult to understand their resulting confusion and frustration.

The net result is often a heated back-and-forth exchange with the patient challenging the additional charges. Imagine the following scenario: “You said I only owed $100, now you say it is $200,” exclaims Mrs. Jones. “If I’d known it was going to be that much I might not have paid you.”

Whether over- or under-estimating out-of-pocket costs, you get a negative reaction, which can also impact repeat business if patients lose confidence in an organization’s patient preferred financial management capabilities and go elsewhere for future care.

Be the expert

The answer is to do your due diligence, leveraging the latest estimating expertise and capabilities to provide accurate and complete information prior to service. Simply put, what you say a patient owes should actually be what they owe. They are looking to you to be the expert and lead them in the right direction.

As self pay patients become more informed, you will undoubtedly encounter some who have done their research and won’t accept what you tell them without question. With a highly informed patient it is especially important to be viewed as the expert. An educated patient is a happier patient if you are able to have conversations that are accurate and precise.

It goes without saying that Patient Access resources need to be trained to have these types of sensitive patient financial management discussions, including asking for upfront payment. As an added patient access service, patient payment options should be made available to help medical patients manage their out-of-pocket costs. All of this falls into the purview of Patient Access services training and requires a transformation at the front of the revenue cycle to adequately respond to today’s changing patient needs.

Organizations can choose to invest in the people, patient collections processes and patient experience technology needed to better serve today’s health care consumer, or they can work through an external partner. At nThrive, our Patient Access services and technology are helping medical billing organizations maximize point-of-service collections while also improving patient satisfaction and preventing payor denials, which reduces cost to collect.

For instance, at Oklahoma State University Medical Center in Tulsa, we achieved estimate accuracy within 98 percent of the final hospital bill, helping to increase POS hospital collections seven times over prior hospital performance. Our Patient Eligibility Enrollment service worked on behalf of improving patient access at a large South Carolina medical center to identify and secure available assistance, resulting in a 32 percent increase in Medicaid approvals while receiving positive patient feedback for care and respect throughout the process.

To learn more about how nThrive can help your health care organization offset patient liability and improve patient satisfaction in today’s changing health care environment contact us today at 678-323-2500.

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1Institute for Health Care Improvement

2InstaMed’s 2017 Trends in Healthcare Payments

3Accenture Whitepaper: Patient Engagement: Happy Patients, Healthy Margins, 2015