With the rise in high deductible health plans and self-pay patients, your patient accounting team should focus more than ever on collecting money, right? Wrong.
Increasing patient responsibility is not forcing only healthcare organizations and medical providers to change their priorities. Patients’ priorities are changing as well. More people are beginning to shop around for lower cost and higher quality providers. With this shift from volume to value it is more important than ever for patient account representatives to focus on providing the best possible patient experience, and the revenue will follow.
Consider your own experiences with customer service. Are you more likely to pay a friend or an enemy? According to author, speaker and leadership evangelist John Maxwell, there are three questions every patient asks themselves about your team when they come to your practice. If they cannot answer each question affirmatively, your team will have a much harder time securing payment.
Question 1: Do you care for me?
In healthcare the answer to this question should be simple because you are in the business of taking care of people. Patients know their physician cares for them, but what about the front office and billing staff? When a patient enters the office, are your representatives friendly and inviting? Or are they so busy answering phones, checking insurance eligibilities, or talking among themselves that the patient is greeted only by a clipboard of registration forms?
Mutual concern creates a connection between people. If your staff is caring and tries to connect with the patient upon their arrival, the patient will feel cared for.
To ensure this happens, instruct your staff to find a connection point and to engage them. Ask about a family member or a life event the patient mentioned in the past. Common interests can be quickly determined by clothing and accessories. One simple gesture from a busy medical customer service representative can make the difference between a routine office visit and an exceptional patient experience.
Question 2: Can you help me?
It is easy to forget how complicated and confusing a patient statement or explanation of benefits can be when you understand them so completely. For patients, discussing insurance eligibility can be like speaking another language, and they are going to have questions. Your team members are the experts in these areas, and should be willing to be a resource for those who do not understand.
If a patient does not understand their bill it is very unlikely they will be willing to pay it. Your staff has the expertise explain it, or better yet, to
provide them with an estimate prior to service so they have no questions about the bill when they receive it. It is their responsibility to determine what the barrier to payment is, and to help overcome it. If they are able to help the patient understand the amount owed, you are more likely to receive prompt payment.
Question 3: Can I trust you?
If your patients do not feel that your staff cares about them or believes they cannot or will not help them, they are not going to trust you. They will not pay people they do not trust. Your physicians may get a pass on this one too, but the rest of your staff will not. In order to earn your patients’ trust, your staff must establish a connection with the patient and help them through the entire revenue cycle.
In the shift from volume to value, early patient engagement is key. Instead of gathering only basic demographic information prior to the visit, collecting a co-pay at the time of service and sending an unexplained (and often unexpected) statement weeks after the appointment, engage proactively. Gather all information necessary to determine an out-of-pocket estimate prior to the appointment, and explain the estimate and answer any questions at the time of service. The patient will already know what to expect when they receive their bill, will understand the charges, and will be more likely to pay it without objection. They will also know that your staff cares about them and that they can be trusted to help when needed.
New goal: Connect with Patients
If you were a visitor at your practice, how would you answer each of these questions? Understanding and addressing these three concerns will help your patient account representatives build meaningful connections with your patients, and will foster exceptional patient satisfaction.
If your goal is to collect money from patients, the patients will feel that. They will not feel that you care about them or that you are there to help, and they certainly will not trust you. When you change your goal to improving the patient experience, your bottom line will soon follow.
Want to learn how to change your mindset? Collector University’s free educational seminars and collection resources can help improve patient connections. Register today!
Written by Ali Bechtel, Public Relations Coordinator for AR Logix