Three Strategies to Communicate Costs to Patients

February 8, 2018

Here are some strategies practices should take to better communicate medical costs to patients.

High deductible health plans have become the standard in healthcare. Patients feel this impact greatest at the beginning of the year when deductibles reset. Higher deductibles result in doctors billing and collecting directly from patients for a greater share of a typical annual healthcare expense.

According to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, physicians spend only 27 percent of their time caring for patients face-to-face, with the balance of time involved in administrative and billing activities. This time imbalance can have serious implications for patients and their healthcare providers. Many providers are looking to reduce their time spent on administrative and billing activities, providing more time to be with patients. 

Effectively communicating about medical costs has become increasingly important in the age of Yelp, WebMD and Vitals, when a patient's frustration over the handling of a bill, fee, or insurance coverage can quickly spread on social media. Below are three strategies to consider for a thorough approach to financial conversations with patients.

Over-Communicate New Policies

Patient no-shows significantly affect delivery, cost of care, and resource planning, costing the U.S. healthcare system more than $150 billion a year. Understandably, more physicians may be implementing fees for late or missed appointments. Patients may be sensitive to this policy change, especially when the fees come as a surprise. It's important to clearly communicate a new policy before it goes into effect. Have patients acknowledge that they understand a new policy during office check-in and include reminders in waiting room signage, phone "hold" messages and on your website. Keep a log of when patients have signed an acknowledgement in their electronic file. Incorporate reasonable exceptions for unavoidable situations. By communicating your policies to patients clearly and often, you’ll demonstrate transparency and reinforce trust. 

Implement Additional Payment Options

Regardless of practice or specialty, all healthcare professionals share one common goal - improving the health of their patients. But patients may have different preferences when it comes to paying for their healthcare. With that in mind, you may want to consider adding alternative payment options to your current financial policy.

There are a number of products that offer payment solutions that are easy for your office to manage and more flexibility for patients than a traditional in-house payment plan. These products may also have resources that help staff have the financial conversation with patients. One such option is a credit card designed specifically for health and wellness needs. This type of card can be used to pay for treatments and procedures, and it allows patients to make convenient, monthly payments. The benefit for your office is that it takes the process of collection management off your hands, allowing your staff to focus on patients' health needs.

Communicate Payment Options to Patients

Once you've decided on the various payment options you'll make available to patients, utilize your existing communication channels to promote these alternatives. Add a tab to your website with this information – and any appropriate payment site links. Email your patients important and cost-saving changes that are available to them. Prominently display brochures or information about your various payment and financing options.

With healthcare spending at an all-time high, your patients will appreciate your help and guidance as they plan how to pay for their medical services. Not only could these three strategies improve the financial health of your practice, they can also assist your patients in gaining access to care.

Dave Fasoli is the Chief Executive Officer of CareCredit, a leading health and wellness credit card in the U.S. which is accepted at over 200,000 health and wellness providers nationwide, and Executive Vice President at Synchrony Financial.

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