By Bird Blitch, Patientco CEO

The following article appeared in Healthcare Executive Insight. To view the original article, click here.

It can’t be stated enough that compassionate care is vital in the successful treatment of patients and their recoveries. Founded on good communication and emotional support, compassion helps patients feel positive and engaged, and has even been shown to have a direct impact on clinical outcomes, including better treatment adherence, reduced readmissions and increased patient safety.

With the shift to value-based care and nearly $1 billion in incentive payments riding, in part, on patient satisfaction scores, healthcare organizations are seeing that good communication on the financial side of care is just as critical. Similar to how hospitals and health systems are already leveraging data and analytics to improve clinical outcomes, the financial experience is an equally important-yet often overlooked-component of a hospital’s patient engagement strategy that can provide the means to enhance the experience of care. A 2013 survey by TransUnion Healthcare, for instance, found that patients who have a positive payment experience give higher marks for the quality of care they received than patients whose financial experience is negative.

To compassionately engage patients in the financial process, hospitals and health systems need to be on the frontlines when it comes to counseling patients at the point of service, assessing their financial capacity and finding creative ways to help them pay. The use of technology, backed by data and analytics, enables healthcare organizations to connect with patients in constructive, compassionate financial communications-before and after service-while also improving the revenue cycle.

Smarter Tools for a Better Experience
In her acceptance speech, Dr. Amy Ship, recipient of the Compassionate Caregiver Award by the Kenneth B. Schwarz Center, remarked on the power of small gestures and details to transform patients’ experiences. “There is no billing code for compassion,” Ship noted. Yet collecting unpaid balances from a growing self-pay population can be a time-consuming process, negatively impacting workflow and cash flow-even staff morale-and increasing bad debt. Hospitals need smarter, kinder and more cost-effective ways to help patients manage payments that do not rely on disjointed third parties for account follow-up.

Most hospitals try to increase patient payments with a wide variety of disparate departments, systems and vendors-which only increases the odds that data will be missed, or even nonexistent, that can help paint a complete picture of each patient’s personal and/or financial situation. Without adequate information, organizations with positive intentions can end up making matters worse, increasing the number of complaints and poor referrals, lowering satisfaction scores and increasing bad debt.

Organizations can avoid many of these problems by leveraging the data and analytics available through comprehensive payment solutions to create a more empathetic patient experience. By aggregating data from disparate systems, such solutions give healthcare organizations a real-time snapshot of their financial and operational performance, as well as root cause analyses around patient payment behaviors. This enables both the customization of payment solutions to fit patient preferences and the maximization of patient payment efforts. Some of the benefits hospitals gain by garnering an accurate, data-driven understanding of each patient’s financial obligations and financial situation include:

1. Ability to view all patient payment data through a single platform. Analytics tools enhance patient engagement by simultaneously evaluating patients’ use of all payment streams-whether by mail, phone, online, or in person. Inbound and outbound data should be consolidated into unified reports that can be autoposted into the health information system, permitting full updates and automatic daily reconciliation. This data can then be transformed into actionable insights regarding payment processes, staffing needs and cash flow decisions-insight that can help organizations better cater to their patients in terms of their financial experience.

2. Insight into patient preferences. Forcing your entire patient population into the box of having the same types of financial interactions is much like Netflix suggesting the same movie to all of its customers. Catering to consumer preference is good business. Analytics provide hospitals with information about how its patients prefer to pay-time of month, time of day, method of payment, etc.-and how often. Truly understanding a patient’s unique financial situation and preference allows providers to work with the individual to create pre-approved and/or recurring payments that meet both the provider’s and the patient’s needs-thereby increasing the likelihood of payment and a positive experience for the patient.

3. Increased upfront payments. There is a huge opportunity to improve cash flow by utilizing upfront tools that allow system-wide visibility into patient accounts. When taking a payment or setting up a payment plan, upfront personnel should have the ability to easily view and process outstanding balances from services rendered in other parts of the integrated delivery network (IDN). Furthermore, insight into past patient payment behavior empowers your staff to proactively offer similar payment arrangements for current charges. Patients will appreciate this holistic approach to payments and will improve your upfront revenue payments.

4. Minimized patient confusion. Through the use of a single payment platform that works across all areas of a health system and its various information systems, patients’ accounts can be continually updated to avoid confusion and frustration. Take, for instance, a patient who pays his or her bill early. Not capturing that information in a timely manner typically results in the patient receiving another statement. The patient will often call the hospital confused-and perhaps upset-about the amount owed. By contrast, a hospital whose payment solution captures that payment and continually updates the patient’s account can save both the patient’s confusion and the statement’s cost.

In bottom-line terms, being able to easily access and analyze data about patient payments allows healthcare organizations to capture more revenue and boost cash flow. Equally important, however, is the opportunity it affords to extend compassion beyond the clinical and into the financial aspects of healthcare. From start to finish, patients can enjoy a more personal and satisfying healthcare experience through this improved financial communication.