What comes to mind when you think of health system marketing? For most people, it’s dynamic content on the organization’s latest clinical advancements, philanthropic efforts, wellness management and relationship-building efforts within the community it serves. It’s also understanding patients and their motivations, using consumer research and analysis, focus groups, surveys, and other tools.
You probably don’t think about the healthcare billing experience.
It’s understandable. Frank discussions about finances remain a taboo in our society. The rising costs of healthcare—and the increasingly large percentage of that cost carried by the patient—makes this a delicate subject for even the most talented marketing team.
Yet, patient financing is a core pillar of a health system’s ability to deliver a positive experience to consumers and capture their loyalty.
According to HIMSS, “patient financial touch points… may exceed the number of clinical touch points,” yet its specific impact on the patient’s perception of the health system is rarely measured beyond common—and often incomplete—metrics like point-of-service collection rates, call abandonment rates and registration wait times.
Even HCAHPS, the national standardized survey that ties performance results to reimbursement, does not capture a patients’ financial experience, even though that experience can negatively impact a health system’s scores.
Healthcare’s Financial Quagmire
Imagine a state-of-the-art health system. The clinical care is second to none. The staff is highly professional and empathetic. The amenities and design details ensure a comfortable and reassuring stay.
Then the bills come. Sometimes sooner, sometimes later. Some come by e-mail, others by the post office. Some contradict each other, some are wholly unexpected and some are just plain wrong. According to a 2017 report from the Center of Healthcare Quality & Payment Reform 70% of patients find their medical bills confusing.
Strong, trusted relationships between provider and consumer have been nurtured over generations, but they are being eroded one faceless statement at a time by what has become a significant “kitchen table” issue across almost all consumer demographic groups across the country: how to deal with the high costs and frustrating experience of healthcare billing today.
The patient financial experience is ripe for marketing innovation. The changing dynamics of U.S. healthcare has left the patient bearing more and more of the financial responsibility for their treatment. Every statement sent by the provider to a consumer is an opportunity for the provider brand to show up in a positive way: with clarity, transparency, flexibility, and compassion. But too often each billing statement is a brand opportunity lost—a disappointing financial experience that follows a positive clinical experience.
The work to be done to address the high overall cost of healthcare in the United States doesn’t change the fact that extraordinary improvements can and should be made in patient satisfaction with the billing process right now.
So what should marketers do about it? Here are three starting points:
1. Understand the Patient Financial Experience
Spend time with your revenue cycle team to understand existing policies and approaches to working with the consumer as the payer. Revenue cycle teams are on the front line of the provider-consumer experience as never before. Beyond the financial consequences of every dollar left on the table by the health system are very personal, human stories.
One of the hard realities is that provider billing is managed very differently than other financial obligations consumers face every day. It’s complicated and confusing, and the balances are often large and unexpected.
What financing terms does your health system offer (beyond financial assistance)? What do your paper or digital statements look like, and how many are sent each week? What is the average post-insurance balance owed by patients and how has that changed over the last five years? How easy is it to pay a bill over time? How much of the total revenue of your health system is due from patients rather than commercial or government payers?
Armed with this information you’ll have a good understanding of the way your health system shows up to consumers today and what’s at stake. The most important thing to remember is that “one size fits all” actually fits no one.
2. Measure the Experience
We know that patients’ financial experience informs their overall impression of a healthcare provider, but how can that be measured?
Use focus groups and online panel groups to talk to patients about the financial experience, and measure satisfaction with the current billing experience. A simple five box customer satisfaction survey will get the lay of the land. Or you could find out your financial experience NPS score.
Once the program is in place, it’s important to use the right type of data and reporting to measure results. This platform should include a feedback loop that allows healthcare organizations to continually optimize and improve financial and satisfaction outcomes. Failure to include this element in the patient financial interaction platform will result in a sub-optimal experience for both patient and provider.
3. Develop a Patient Financial Journey
Think about the end-to-end patient financial experience. What determines how patients look at their financial interactions with your system? It could be balanced due, demographics, clinical condition, or other things. Can you identify patient financial segments that share common characteristics with whom you can design a better experience?
Understanding the financial side of your brand experience is an important building block in the overall effort to offer a positive consumer experience across the continuum of care.
Will Reilly is the Vice President of Consumer and Client Marketing at VisitPay. He has more than 15 years of marketing and branding experience at major corporations and startups in Europe and the United States, including IBM.