3 Ways to Increase Patient Satisfaction in 2018

January 4, 2018

Improving your billing processes can not only improve your revenue, but will make patients happier.

2018 is poised to be another interesting year for the healthcare revenue cycle. With ACA premiums set to grow sharply (up to 32 percent more for some plans), as well as overall employer-sponsored insurance costs, one thing is certain: patient payments will continue to make up an increasing portion of practice revenue.

Fortunately, there are several opportunities for practices to not only collect patient payments in a timely manner in the coming year, but increase patient satisfaction at the same time. Here are a few:

1.   Offer more digital payment and e-billing options.

Patients today want the same level of convenience they experience in industries that have offered digital payment options for years. Yet many patients still find it difficult to understand and pay their healthcare bills, according to a recent set of surveys.

The first survey, the 2017 Digital Payment Progress Report conducted by Navicure and MGMA, asked about MGMA members' billing preferences and behaviors. The second survey, the Patient Payment Check-Up conducted by HIMSS Analytics, evaluates differences in attitudes and behaviors between patients and providers.

The Patient Payment Check-Up reveals that 48 percent of patients find providers' bill paying options inconvenient. However, survey respondents were also clear on what they do like: 52 percent of patients prefer electronic billing and are overwhelmingly receptive to sharing their email address (79 percent) and cell phone numbers (72 percent) to facilitate digital payment processes.

The Patient Payment Check-Up survey also indicates that 78 percent of patients would be willing to provide their credit card on file (CCOF) to be charged one time up to $200.

That said, the Digital Payment Progress Report shows that practices are showing some adoption, but have room for improvement when it comes to digital payment options. Currently, only 28 percent of MGMA members surveyed are keeping CCOF and 27 percent offer online bill pay. Providers without these capabilities and processes have the opportunity to adopt technology to help support these features to help close the convenience gap.

Ultimately, the surveys showed that manual and paper billing processes are on the way out - and patients want it that way. Practices that create digital communication channels and embrace modern solutions such as CCOF and online bill pay are likely to reap the dual rewards of increased patient satisfaction and more timely payments.      

2.   Deliver up-front estimates to make payment balances clearer

One really interesting fact the surveys uncovered: Patients think they pay their balances a lot faster than providers say they do. In fact, 23 percent of patients say they pay what they owe within one month, and 67 percent of respondents say they pay in full when asked to pay something at the time of service. Yet providers feel differently. More than half of physician respondents (52 percent) say it takes patients more than three months to pay their balances due, and 26 percent say it takes some patients up to six months.

At the heart of this disconnect is a lack of clarity about what is actually due from patients and when it's due. That's something that can be easily solved by providing an estimate to patients before or at the time of service. Upfront estimates help patients know how much they owe, enabling them to make informed care decisions and initiate a conversation with the practice about how to pay. Plus, it's a great win for patient satisfaction.

3.   Provide payment plans and time-of-service collections

It may seem counterintuitive for patients to want to pay up-front, yet one benefit of offering patient estimates is the increased ability to collect balances at the time of service.

Many organizations (79 percent) are already able to provide cost estimates, according to the MGMA survey. With patients clear on what they owe, they're more likely to pay - or at least make arrangements to pay - while they're in the office instead of waiting for a paper statement. In fact, almost 62 percent of all patient respondents say they'd be willing to set up automated payment plans to pay their balances.

That's a big area of opportunity: Today, only 22 percent of MGMA survey respondents can offer payment plans for their patients. However, respondents agree that automated payment plans could help drive down a trifectas of revenue cycle woes, including the cost of collections, days in A/R, and bad debt and write offs.

Increasing patient satisfaction may be easier than you think

Combined, these patient payment strategies could result in a more predictable revenue stream for practices, in addition to adding convenience and efficiency for patients.

As the surveys illustrate, increasing patient satisfaction in the era of healthcare consumerism and today's high-deductible reality may be easier than practices imagine. It really may be as simple as giving patients more insight around what they owe, and more flexibility to pay their bills.