When Cost Factors into Healthcare Decision-Making: 3 Insights for Healthcare Revenue Cycle

A recent survey shows 44% of consumers have delayed care in the past year due to cost concerns, up from 25% a year ago, while paycheck-to-paycheck consumers are changing their purchasing patterns due to rising financial insecurity. These are signs that inflation is hitting home—literally—necessitating new approaches for easing consumers’ financial worries about care.

Since March 2020, hospitals and health systems have witnessed the impact of economic uncertainty on healthcare decision making by consumers. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey published this past summer found four out of 10 consumers struggle to afford healthcare. The same proportion of consumers have delayed care in the past year due to cost, according to the KFF survey—up from 12% in 2021.

Now, with inflation weighing on consumers’ minds and prompting them to change their shopping patterns, the prospect that people will either postpone care to avoid the expense or put medical bills lower on their priority list is a possibility healthcare organizations can’t afford to ignore. That’s why a proactive approach to encouraging consumers to seek needed care and helping consumers better manage the cost of their care is so important for healthcare revenue cycle. Ultimately, it’s another way of demonstrating compassionate care—this time, on the financial side.

Here are three considerations for healthcare revenue cycle teams on relieving the financial anxiety of care.

  • Break down medical bills and estimates into words consumers understand. One of the most stressful aspects of a healthcare encounter occurs when patients receive their medical bill and don’t understand how costs were calculated, what portion of the bill comprises their out-of-pocket cost, or whether insurance has paid its portion. Another major stressor occurs when hospital bills and physician bills arrive separately on different dates. Look for opportunities to redesign patient billing statements to ensure consumers know, at a glance, the type of care received, the amount the patient owes for care, how the balance was determined, and options for payment. This helps ensure that when patients do have additional questions, they can gain quick answers via a variety of communication avenues, from email to a phone call to customer service. Additionally, when live support is needed, the calls received by customer service will likely center on more complex issues than how much is due and how to pay. Patients will come to view the statement as a helpful resource, while busy customer service staff will get more time to spend one-on-one with patients who need specialized support.
  • Invest in your customer service team. When individuals come to your organization with sensitive concerns regarding the cost of their care, they need an empathetic ear and clear, practical advice on ways to navigate the financial aspects of care. That’s especially true when customer balances are larger and insurance premiums and deductibles are higher. Leading healthcare organizations now require customer service representatives to pass a customer service certification course, such as the course offered through the Healthcare Financial Management Association. Attracting the right talent is also a central component of a patient-first customer service strategy. One consideration to explore: Make the customer service role one of the highest-paid positions within the revenue cycle department. Doing so could empower organizations to attract employees who are highly skilled in customer service—which will better position the medical center to provide compassionate assistance for patients with complex financial considerations and needs.
  • Shore up self-service options for medical bills. This gives consumers private channels for navigating how much they owe and their options for paying their bill. When self-service options include the ability to apply for patient financial assistance, consumers gain an ultra-private way to express the need for financial resources to help pay their bill. This makes disadvantaged consumers more likely to initiate conversations around cost rather than ignore their bill. Similarly, self-service options for obtaining cost estimates for care empowers consumers to obtain out-of-pocket information in advance. With this information in hand, individuals can explore the payment options available before care takes place and self-enroll in payment plans, where needed. Investment in self-service options for consumers gives customer service staff more time to tackle complex matters with care.

Steadfast support in changing times

The patient financial experience is quickly becoming a differentiating factor among health systems. That’s especially true in a rapidly changing economic environment. By continually seeking ways to ease the financial strain of care, hospitals and health systems can position themselves as a trusted advisor for the communities they serve. It’s an approach that is vital to maintaining relationships and revenue.

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