Differentiate your practice with a unique patient-centric approach

Price transparency and consumerism are here to stay. Ensure your practice is as well.

A flurry of new laws around consumer-focused price transparency is causing a stir across the healthcare industry. But if you’ve been following the healthcare consumerism trend, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Consumerism is built on the tenet that patients have full access to cost and pricing information to make decisions about their health, and these new laws are likely just the start of a series of regulatory initiatives designed to mandate pricing transparency. But these transparency laws are also a reminder that many of the tried-and-true practices associated with building and maintaining a patient population are about to be disrupted.  

Providers have traditionally built their practices on word of mouth or being in the right contracted networks. And while these are still valuable marketing resources, they are just a starting point. The ability to view costs before scheduling a visit gives patients a valuable tool when comparing one practice with another similar practice within a five-mile radius. If you want to continue to compete for patients in this competitive environment, you must focus on differentiation.

One of the best ways to differentiate is to build a patient-centered practice. While a concierge-health model may not be possible for high-volume practices that accept insurance, you can still adopt some of the principles that make those attractive to patients. Here’s how: 

Become the trusted healthcare advisor

Building trust with patients isn’t just about the interaction during the patient encounter; it’s also about what happens after the patient leaves. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, 30% of patients surveyed reported not taking their medicine as prescribed due to costdifficulty affording their medications. Your practice should have processes in place so that a care team member follows up to see if the patient has questions, ensure they are taking medications, following their after-care plan, and getting the financial support necessary to follow the care plan. This is especially important with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. You should also proactively reach out to patients to schedule follow-up visits, rather than relying on the patient to remember.    

Grow your referral network 

Building a strong physician referral network helps you coordinate care across all dimensions of your patients’ health. Whether they need a routine colonoscopy screening, physical therapy, or even mental health services, patients look to their physicians for help choosing specialized care services. Creating these referral relationships also has reciprocal benefits for your practice. 

Make it easy to do business with your practice

Everything about your patients’ administrative experience—from scheduling to appointment reminders to billing–should be a seamless experience. This means accommodating for the different ways patients prefer to communicate —phone, email, online, and text message. According to the Healthcare Payment Experience Report, patients are increasingly open to digital communications. Sixty-three percent reported preferring appointment reminders through email, 53% were willing to receive emails about payments, and 43% were willing to establish online payment plans. Providers should offer convenient payment options and payment plans when necessary.

Help patients understand their benefits

Even those with decades of experience in healthcare can find patient coverage difficult to decipher. Understanding the myriad of plans and benefit levels, combined with unmet deductibles, is confusing for practice staff, which makes it difficult for them to explain to patients. Rather than have each front-desk staff member be responsible for answering patient questions, consider training one resource to serve as a coverage advisor. Giving patients the opportunity to ask questions in a private, one-on-one setting can help reduce confusion and frustration. 

Get comfortable with marketing

While many physician practices have built robust marketing programs and campaigns, others operate in a somewhat old-fashioned mindset that views promotional activities as inappropriate or suspect. But that attitude must change. Your current and future patients are searching for you online, so make sure your website and your social media channels (yes, you should be on social media) are attractive and contain up-to-date information. 

Automate as much as possible

Understandably, you may be wondering where to find the staffing to meet these resource-intensive requirements. One of the first things you should do is evaluate your front and back-office processes and determine if there are opportunities to streamline manual processes. There are many tools on the market today that can help with referrals and billing, which would allow you to reallocate resources to higher-value activities. 

Price transparency is a good thing for the healthcare industry, and providers that embrace the changes brought on by consumerism will rise to the top.

About the Author
Lillian Phelps is a senior director of product management at Availity, the nation’s largest health information network.