Before becoming a hospital CEO, I started as a public relations and marketing manager in a flagship hospital market for the for-profit company HCA. As with any hospital, I had to respond to events that generated negative publicity and impacted the patient experience and our brand’s reputation. These ranged from having the highest charges in the state (and the highest acuity) to a shooting in the ER that garnered national press coverage to medical mistakes (no injury).

One of the lessons I learned is that to counter episodes of negative publicity, a health system needs to build a positive patient experience and a well of goodwill to maintain patient loyalty.

Cost Concerns: One of the Top Challenges for Health Systems’ Brand Reputation

Patients’ cost concerns are not an insignificant issue for today’s health systems. According to a 2020 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, health insurance premiums and deductibles have risen much faster than wages in the last decade. In fact, deductibles are up about 70%. Additionally, one-third of all GoFundMe campaigns go toward healthcare expenses.

It’s no wonder Patientco’s 2021 State of the Financial Experience Report found that more patients have skipped care because of cost concerns than fear of COVID-19. Additionally, nearly half of patients reported they need financial assistance for medical bills that exceed $500. The survey report also revealed that cost estimates without affordable payment options often drive patients away.

There are several factors that influence a patient’s bill balance. Much of this is outside of the hospital’s control, such as the patient’s health benefits, their out-of-pocket maximum and more. However, it’s not just a high bill balance that patients are worried about. Patients are also concerned about hospitals’ aggressive collections practices. An aggressive approach to debt collection not only results in a bad patient experience, it can also result in bad publicity and a bad brand reputation for the health system.

For example, a recent ProPublica investigation found that many health systems go after patients for outstanding debt at all costs. Despite court actions to collect patient debt dropped during the pandemic, there were still hospital systems filing lawsuits, liens and garnishments – and most were nonprofits. NPR and KFF also feature a popular hospital “Bill of the Month” column.

The Power of the Patient Experience

A 2018 study by Press Ganey found that the patient experience is five times more likely to drive patient loyalty than traditional marketing efforts, such as billboards, or television, print, or radio ads. That’s why health systems should carefully consider how they’re engaging patients to collect payments.

Patientco recognizes that the patient experience isn’t over once a patient receives treatment. The patient experience isn’t over until the patient has paid for their care. Therefore, supporting better interactions with patients throughout their care journey – from scheduling their first visit to accepting their payment after treatment – is key. 

The Financial Benefits Are Clear

In fact, a white paper by athenahealth proves that how health systems engage patients makes a difference, especially when it comes to billing and payments. Making it easy for patients to engage digitally via a portal improves the patient experience and delivers clear financial benefits, including:

Increased Collections – Providers that increased portal adoption rates by 20 percentage points or more over 12 months saw a median increase in patient pay yield of nearly 5%.

Improved Patient Loyalty – 18-month retention rates rose from 67% to 80%. Loyalty translates to revenue. According to athenahealth’s research, new patients who return to a practice at least once over a three-year period generate more than $800 in collections, as opposed to less than $150 for patients who don’t return.

More Manageable Workload for Staff – Providers with patient portal adoption rates above 60% report that portals can actually reduce workloads for their team members.

How Health Systems Can Elevate the Patient Experience 

Patientco’s 2021 State of the Patient Financial Experience survey report shows that financial barriers, such as cost concerns, confusing medical bills and more, erode patient trust in health systems. As a result, patients are reluctant to seek  care. Meanwhile, the health system’s public image and brand reputation suffers. However, the health systems that elevate the patient experience are making a profound investment in their patients’ trust and ultimately, the health of the communities they serve. 

How Patientco Elevates the Patient Experience 

Personalized Interactions – Patientco provides individually tailored communication and payment options to engage patients in a personalized way. This is the first step toward earning patients’ loyalty. Patientco’s platform leverages patient preferences, behavioral data, and propensity models to tailor patient engagement. Learn more in Patientco’s new white paper: “One Size Fits All” Consumer Scoring Tools Don’t Fit Healthcare Consumers.

Convenient Communication & Payment Options – Maximize convenience for every patient with mobile-friendly, digital-first billing communications alongside self-service payment options. Patients can use the PatientWallet®, Patientco’s online and mobile-friendly payment portal, to quickly and easily make a payment. Patients can also view their outstanding balances, prior payment activity and more. For patients that need more affordable options, patients can sign up for monthly payment plans through the PatientWallet as well. 

Easy-to-Understand Bills – Support a better patient experience with one easy-to-understand statement that offers a single view of a patient’s payment responsibility. Translate medical billing codes into plain language. Help patients understand confusing insurance terminology, such as copay, deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, and how these apply to the healthcare services they received. Patientco’s platform supports all of these capabilities. This ensures patients understand what they owe and makes it clear how to pay, which enables health systems to foster patient trust, satisfaction and loyalty. 

Affordable Payment Options – Offer an affordable solution for everyone with a suite of payment plan products, recourse, and non-recourse financing, unfunded payment plans, and revolving credit lines, all with online enrollment. With Patientco, health systems can empower patients to sign up for a payment option that works for their unique financial situation. 

The Revenue Cycle’s Impact to Your Brand’s Reputation

The relationship with the patients doesn’t have to deteriorate when the patient enters the realm of the business office. The revenue cycle team makes just as significant a contribution to patient loyalty as the nurse on the floor. Now, it’s time for health systems to acknowledge the revenue cycle’s team impact on their brand’s reputation. After all, the health systems that realize the patient financial experience directly influences their brand’s reputation will gain the upper hand.  

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 a commercially successful landscape and wildlife photographer.