By Josh Byrd, Director of Marketingpatientbillmarketing250

Marketing centers on communication, but the number one way hospitals communicate with patients isn’t marketing-related…yet.

“The days of cryptic invoicing are coming to an end for healthcare – or at it least they should be, financial experts say.”

These are the words of the latest Healthcare Finance News article, which cites a recent TransUnion consumer survey that claims to validate the national attention being given to healthcare price transparency.  Experts now realize the upcoming insurance coverage mandate deadline and growth of high deductible health plans not only incentivizes consumers to understand the implications of their healthcare choices, it practically requires it.  Yet most providers are still mailing confusing invoices and a startling number don’t even have the option for patients to pay their bill online.

Herein lies a great marketing opportunity.

At the recent America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) exchange forum, speakers emphasized billing as a way for insurers to “build relationships with individual consumers.”  Healthcare providers send bills to patients more than any other type of communication.  Each statement (or e-bill) is a chance to differentiate that provider’s customer experience from the competition.

And that experience is the key to increasing market share and future patient engagement.  Brand awareness simply isn’t enough anymore- word of mouth and social media have democratized the reputation of each healthcare provider.  When faced with a choice, as patients increasingly are, it takes less than 5 minutes to pull everything from Facebook reviews to your HCAHPS satisfaction score.

Skeptical providers may wonder, “How could billing possibly increase patient satisfaction?”  The answer lies in expectations.  Patients understand the bill is coming, even if they dread it.  Given decades of receiving code-filled invoices that make little sense to those outside of the healthcare industry, their expectations were pretty low…until now.  Consumerism and patient engagement have changed everything. Patients NEED to understand their bills in order to make economical healthcare decisions.  Patients WANT the flexibility to pay using the method that suits them.

The good news is savvy providers still have a chance to knock it out of the park from a customer service perspective.  Receiving a statement designed around patient experience with intelligent use of color, iconography, and plain language is an unexpected surprise for most patients.  Having multiple convenient payment options to suit patient preference such as an online expense management portal, an automated phone payment system, or the ability to set up an automated payment plan in just a few minutes augments the customer experience in a way that, until recently, was reserved for the highest rated consumer companies.

Billing isn’t just a financial challenge anymore; it’s a marketing one as well.  How patients perceive your facility and care is everything. Going above and beyond the competition to help patients understand and manage their bills is a big step in the right direction.