Patient satisfaction, loyalty and retention — these are the lifeblood of any medical group. But in today’s ever-evolving healthcare landscape, how do you authentically and successfully nurture them?
There are numerous paths to patient satisfaction, but one factor is increasingly clear: practice administrators must focus as much attention on the patient finanial experience as they do the clinical experience. It is eye-opening to realize that more than 60% of patients in one recent survey, for example, rated their medical bills as “confusing” or “very confusing.”1 Patients feel frustrated when they’re not sure how much insurance will pay for their care, how much they owe out of pocket or the types of financial support available to them.
For patients, the concern is legitimate. Consider the fact that nearly half of patients under age 65 who have commercial insurance still have annual deductibles of $1,300 to $6,550.2 With so much at stake, patients expect the same kind of financial transparency and convenience they have become accustomed to in other areas of their lives. They rationalize it this way: If they can go online to review their accounts and make payments on their mortgages, their vehicles or their living room furniture, why not the same for their doctors’ visits?
The revenue cycle spans just about every touchpoint a group has with its patients. This means it leaves a powerful impression — and offers practices a tremendous opportunity to deliver on patient expectations. By enabling a digital transformation of the revenue cycle, practices can create a more positive patient financial experience. At the same time, they can ensure efficiency in the increasingly vital patient collections process.
To effectively transform the revenue cycle, however,groups must be prepared to champion two initiatives:
When it comes down to it, patients neither need nor want to understand the complexities of the healthcare revenue cycle. They don’t care that practices face increasing regulatory burdens and market consolidation. They just want to schedule appointments, see their doctors and pay their bills without a lot of hassle. A standardized revenue cycle can help satisfy patients by providing greater consistency and convenience.
As in other industries, medical groups are starting to leverage technology to enhance and standardize revenue cycle management (RCM) processes. While many practices have employed best-in-breed point solutions to help improve financial performance and the patient experience, it’s worth considering the benefits of moving toward a technology platform approach that’s similar to those used in other consumer-facing industries.
Think of all the daily activities enabled by Google or cell telecom platforms, for instance. By their very nature, platforms are built to aggregate, standardize and simplify. A platform approach provides both a common frame of reference and a common language within individual practices — as well as across medical groups as a whole. Thus, it can help group practice managers come together with their peers to standardize RCM workflows and work more collaboratively.
Furthermore, a platform can enable the same kind of online access experience patients receive from retail and other industries. Platforms offer a foundation for apps that allow patients to get billing estimates, see their insurance deductibles and co-pays, and make payments from their smartphones or tablets.
From the patient perspective, the biggest benefits an RCM platform provides are convenience and consistency. Ultimately, a patient’s experience across the care continuum becomes more predictable and intuitive when all scheduling, billing and other RCM processes look the same from practice to practice. This gives patients a sense of familiarity and comfort, and helps practices build a more cohesive brand presence in the market.
However, while technology-backed standardization can improve the patient financial experience, it only works to a point. Practices do not benefit from a “cookie-cutter” revenue cycle any more than patients benefit from “cookie-cutter” medicine. Practices must ensure that their standardization is driven by collective alignment.
To build a great patient financial experience, each practice must work together with its revenue cycle partners to contribute best practices to the collective group. This demands a high degree of communication and shared objectives. Each organization should know and understand the other’s challenges, as well as their culture, norms and operating routines. True “good-fit” partnerships should be built around solving RCM challenges and developing patient-centered RCM strategies together.
All parties need to feel that they’re part of a core team with a “we” mentality. Technology and staff both play crucial roles; be sure to evaluate not only the technology solutions available, but also staff training, diversity and past experiences. Great RCM partners are not necessarily the ones who offer the largest menu of service options; rather, they are the ones who come to the relationship with a set of best practices and a perspective on how to deliver both strong financial outcomes and a satisfying patient experience.
When teambuilding is done well, the language across all of the groups in the practice reflects a seamless blending of policies, procedures and operating routines. Patients consistently get the experience they desire, and practices solidify their bottom lines as a result.
The revenue cycle is too often a source of patient frustration within healthcare. This is a harsh reality, yet for practices it offers a very practical silver lining.
In the current environment, significant opportunity exists to strengthen patients’ satisfaction and loyalty simply by improving their financial experience. By standardizing RCM processes with the support of “good-fit” partners, medical groups can start to transform the financial experience from pain point to competitive advantage.