The Art of Patient Financial Engagement

By Bird Blitch, Patientco CEO

This article appeared in Healthcare Executive Insight. To read the original article click here.

After all the blood work is done and the paper hospital gown is gone, many healthcare organizations think that their contact with their patients ends. However, this common misconception is not the case, as the organization still communicates with patients from a financial perspective well after the episode of care is over. A statement for services rendered is generally the first post-care contact providers have with their patients. Unfortunately, for many patients, it is more of a pain point than a patient engagement touch point.

The growth of high-deductible health plans has caused consumers to assume greater financial responsibility, but cost transparency has gotten worse-an issue that is challenging to patients and providers alike. Add to that confusion new rules around insurance plan benefits and expectations for consumers to adopt new financial behaviors, and the groundwork is laid for sticker shock. The data shows an increase in uncompensated care costs have risen recently by double digits-to nearly $46 billion.

As patients assume this newly increased burden of their healthcare costs, bad debt will continue to be a growing problem until providers start thinking of financial engagement as an important factor in their patient-facing strategies. Providers must take a consumer-centric approach to this new patient revenue cycle by considering what patients want, how to best communicate that and the essential role that consumerism plays in achieving a positive patient financial experience.

Leveraging the User Experience 
Patient financial engagement is first and foremost about the user experience. User Experience, or UX, is generally thought of in conjunction with web design and mobile apps, employing rich graphics and intuitive web interfaces to improve the ease of use and satisfaction provided to consumers interacting with the site or app. But influencing behavior, whether with mobile apps or prompting patients to pay their healthcare bills, is a difficult challenge. It first starts with psychology and data, and then is next applied to the technology. Enter UX design, a blend of art and science that presents information so that it meets the needs of both the user and the sender to ultimately produce predictable and desirable outcomes.

According to Stanford psychologist and UX guru B.J. Fogg, three things must come together for users in order to change their behavior: 1) the motivation to do something, 2) the ability to do it and 3) a well-placed trigger that converts “potential” into “action.”

Consumers are savvier than ever and are demanding new and different approaches to traditional services, including healthcare payments and other financial processes. Providers who want to keep their patients’ business will now have to proactively engage them with technology throughout their financial journey. The patient payment process is the ideal place to begin evaluating patients’ financial user experience. To do so, healthcare organizations should consider these UX best practices when designing patient-friendly communications and payment systems:

Motivation 
Motivation is the willingness of people to complete a particular action. When patients receive their healthcare bills, their initial motivation to pay is driven by clarity and visibility, which creates trust. Patients want easily identifiable contact information, non-cryptic line items explaining services received and clear payment options.

Simplifying the patient statement-such as providing a unified bill that combines services received across providers and translates treatment codes into plain language-can make it easier for patients to understand what they are paying for, which increases debt recovery for providers. Also, including financial information that is outside the episode of care-for instance, details about co-pays and insurance payments, helps patients better understand their total financial obligations; thereby increasing their understanding and motivation to pay.

Ability 
Ability is the perceived ease with which a particular action can be taken, and is inextricably linked to motivation. For example, if someone is highly motivated to take action, but finds the action too hard to complete, he or she will likely get frustrated and give up.

This also holds true with patient payments. Offering simple, flexible and convenient payment options makes it easy for patients to complete their transaction. Providing patients with the ability to pay by cash, check, payment plan or debit/credit card-in the office, online, over the phone or by mail-paves the way for prompt and full payment. This process not only motivates patients to pay, but provides them with the ability to do so painlessly.

Triggers 
Triggers are elements that lead to or enable a desired behavior, such as reminders, alerts and calls to action. Patients may be triggered to make payments if, for instance, there is some type of reward involved, such as a discount for early payment or payment-in-full. Using an intuitive color palette that changes if a bill hasn’t been addressed is another type of trigger that is subtle and non-confrontational, yet creates a sense of urgency for the patient to address their financial responsibilities. Additionally, mixing digital communications such as eBills with more traditional ones has proven to yield a 7x increase in propensity to pay.

Making patient financial engagement a priority 
The right patient financial engagement solution can help providers deliver on consumer expectations, thereby promoting the best possible patient experience and driving more provider revenue. Engaging patients financially also yields other significant benefits, such as greater satisfaction, loyalty and accountability for patients and better financial health for healthcare organizations.

The patient payment process can be complex, with many variables at play. Providers that take the time to investigate technology that leverages sound UX design principles in their patient revenue cycle will gain the competitive edge. Those who make such financial communication with patients a priority will be better equipped to reduce bad debt and remain financially solvent in the new consumer-driven healthcare environment.