How to Humanize Financial Experience for Patients
by Anirban Dutta
You want to buy a car. You shop online and find the dream car. You go to the dealership, test drives the car and if you like the car, you proceed to buy it. You may do some negotiation but before you buy the car, you will know your cost of car, taxes, license transfer, and other fees. If not 100%, you will know ballpark figures beforehand.
Now, let us see how this works in healthcare. God forbid, you land in the hospital to get a procedure done. You truly have no idea about the cost. Will, the hospital does not tell you how much it costs? Absolutely, the hospital gives you a number, and out of the pocket amount you would owe the hospital. This is based on what the hospital told you how much your insurance would cover and how much would be your part. But, what you did not know that in the next few weeks, you may start seeing separate bills from the lab, anesthesiologist, surgeon, and other care providers who were not part of the bill but "helped you" in the procedure.
According to an article called "Sick of Confusing Medical Bills?" published in Consumer Reports in 2018, 3 out 10 American consumers get reported to collection agencies because of unpaid bills. And 21% of those consumers, simply tossed the bills because they did not know what it was. And even the ones that get a bill and try to read it, it is almost near impossible for a layman to decipher through the language to understand actual costs, hidden costs, insurance payouts, etc. With the economic toll that the country went through during COVID – 19, I fear a vast increase in healthcare payment defaults in the forthcoming months.
US elections in the past have been dominated by issues like Universal healthcare and free-market healthcare. And it will be so in the future. But providers do not need to wait for legislative changes to enable change. Below are two small steps that you as a healthcare provider can take to humanize the financial experience for patients.
Empathy & Conversation
I have written in a previous article called Remote Patient Engagement in Post COVID World, how patient wellbeing and authentic concern for care would go a long way in this touchless remote patient engagement model. These apply to the topic of patients and finances. I cannot emphasize enough; how important it is for the folks answering phones to be able to have:
a) empathy to hear patient concerns.
b) ability to clearly articulate approximate breakdown of costs and out of pocket expenses for individual cases.
Most call centers supporting small hospitals or providers are not trained heavily on empathy or conversely, how to breakdown payments, and provide guidance. Most are good at scheduling appointments and answering basic queries, but they do not know empathy and payments. This is an area where each provider needs to do whatever they can do to arm those responsible to field patient queries so they can provide the right financial related information for the patient and deliver it to them, ideally when they call or at least shortly thereafter.
Digitalize the Experience
With one of our companies Medevantage, we have been helping clients deploy portals that can provide individual estimates based on insurance, healthcare service or procedure required, facility to be visited, etc. Many consumers feel awkward discussing finances related to healthcare even in a phone conversation. The digital interface of portals connected to insurance APIs and payment gateways can not only estimate costs but can provide a variety of ways to handle payments, full pay, partial pay, payment schedule based on monthly payments, etc.
Covid-19 has given us a tremendous opportunity to redefine business models in healthcare. We do not need to be correct in all approaches, but if we think of humanizing financial experience for patients first, I believe we all will come out stronger at the end converting one-off patients to long term advocates.
Feel free to email me any thoughts anytime!
Anirban Dutta is a healthcare technology entrepreneur. He is the co-founder and CEO of three companies:
1) https://pregopower.com >> Maternity guidance, engagement, and analytics platform
2) https://medevantage.com >> A patient engagement platform for mid-market hospitals
3) https://www.compumatrice.com >> A healthcare leaning software services provider