As a hospital and health system marketing director, I learned early on to make a return-on-investment business case supported by data for business development and brand projects. The CFOs I worked with wanted evidence that such expenditures drove visit volumes and patient satisfaction. It was an excellent opportunity that helped me to develop my business skills. In fact, once I half-jokingly commented to my CEO that sometimes it felt as if we were an accounting firm that did healthcare.

Fast forward to when I became a hospital CEO. I noticed that the angriest phone calls I got were from patients after they were discharged home. In essence, these callers were appreciative when they were patients getting hands-on care. But problems started when they transitioned to debtors and began dealing with a business office trying to do its job. A big part of the problem was that there was a silo around the hospital business office. Each time a patient entered that silo, it was a jarring echo chamber of frustration.

The Journey to Patient-Centered Care in the Hospital Business Office

To achieve a better patient experience, my team and I overhauled the workplace culture at the 90-bed regional hospital where I became CEO. Our transformation took almost two years to achieve. One of the reasons the hospital emerged from this journey to enjoy unprecedented financial success was that ancillary support departments put the patient experience and patient satisfaction at the front and center.

In other words, departments such as food services, materials management, housekeeping, engineering, and the business office came to understand how they were just as critical to the patient experience as the clinical staff. Once they modeled their behavior and dialogue on shared values across the organization they helped create, patients sensed a real difference. As a result, they rewarded the facility with higher satisfaction ratings and visit volumes.

Measuring the Patient Experience 

Low patient satisfaction results from a subpar or failed patient experience. Dissatisfied patients would often call demanding to speak to management about their hospital bill when their expectations were not met. However, health system leaders need more than anecdotal evidence of a subpar patient experience to invest in a business office transformation. That’s where survey data comes in. 

A standard measure of the patient experience is the widely-used Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey. The CAHPS surveys ask consumers and patients to report on their experiences with health care services in different settings.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which funds and administers the CAHPS program, healthcare organizations can use CAHPS survey results to:

  • Compare and assess their performance against similar organizations.
  • Pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in patients’ experiences.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of interventions to improve specific aspects of patients’ experiences.

A patient’s experience consists of all interactions the patient values. This includes interactions with the business office, so it’s important that health systems evaluate the entire patient experience.

Hospital Business Office Frustrations Impact the Bottom Line

Hospitals concern themselves about the overall patient experience because it is critical in driving population health improvements (value-based healthcare delivery), which in turn reduces costs. A 2019 Harvard Business Review study concluded that when both the patient experience and employee engagement improve, hospital ratings and profits increase. This happens when all departments across the health system become patient-centric.

So what’s holding our industry back? Inconsistent values and processes often cause a poor patient experience from one hospital department to another. Additionally, it’s no secret that patients have significant costs concerns. This often causes them to avoid or defer necessary care out of fear of getting an unaffordable medical bill. According to Patientco’s 2021 State of the Patient Financial Experience Report, patients cite cost concerns more than fear of exposure to COVID-19 as the reason for skipping care. Even when patients do seek care, more than half have felt confused about what they owe and what insurance covered. What’s more striking? Prior Patientco surveys and countless other industry studies reveal that patients will switch health systems for a better billing and payment experience.

All of these financial barriers may prevent patients, including those that are commercially-insured, from seeking care at your heath system. Fortunately, we can empower the hospital business office to alleviate these frustrations.

A New Era for the Hospital Business Office

I came to understand that the business office staff did well, even with the limited tools we had available. Focusing on customer service skills, including empathy, and getting their input on more flexible payment options helped.

However, it’s a new era. Patients want hospitals to meet them in the digital space, like they did with telehealth throughout the pandemic. And they want the business office to offer the same personalized and empathetic care they experienced in the hospital. As the 2021 Best in KLAS Patient Financial Engagement Platform, Patientco is well-equipped to support health systems as they shift toward a more patient-centered business office. Ultimately, when the business office team is performing at its best, patients get the compassionate experience they deserve.

Meet the Author: John W. Mitchell’s job titles have ranged from sailor in the U.S. Navy (broadcast-journalist aboard an aircraft carrier) to COO and CEO for several hospitals. In 2009, HealthLeaders Media named John and his senior executive team the Top Leadership Team in Healthcare for turning around a 90-bed, regional Washington hospital. In 2012, he started his own business, SnowPack Public Relations. John is widely published as a freelance reporter and writer in the hospital, healthcare, and medical sectors. More recently, his projects include writing content on behalf of Patientco. John is also the author of the novel Medical Necessity (four stars on Amazon), and he is a commercially successful landscape and wildlife photographer.