Today, the financial aspects of healthcare have a major impact on both patients’ experiences and physicians’ job satisfaction. When hospitals do not have sufficient technology and processes in place to resolve financial issues, conversations about cost end up getting pushed into the exam room. This takes the focus off of clinical care and creates tension in the doctor-patient relationship—reducing both parties’ satisfaction and undermining loyalty to the hospital.
How the Financial Dimension Affects Hospital Staff and Patient Relationships
No one visits the hospital because they think it’s a fun way to spend the afternoon. While some people will be coming in for routine physical exams, most patients who are seeing a doctor do so because they’re suffering from an illness, injury, or other condition that requires immediate attention.
Accordingly, patients want to be able to focus solely on their health when they’re in the room with their doctor. Likewise, physicians don’t want to be sidetracked by complex discussions about billing and payment. Everyone wants to be able to focus on achieving the best possible clinical outcomes.
When financial discussions become the elephant in the exam room, they can crowd out careful consideration of diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Once patients become focused on the cost of care, rather than the clinical issues at hand, the financial dimension can quickly dominate their entire experience.
Hospital Visits Should Be About Patients’ Health, Not Their Bank Accounts
Positive clinical experiences have traditionally been a major driver of patient loyalty (which in turn is an important driver of hospital revenue). However, today both the total cost of care and the share of costs borne directly by patients are increasing. In this challenging financial environment, anxiety about affordability can poison the patient-provider relationship and turn the entire clinical encounter into a negative experience. As a result, patients may avoid necessary follow-up visits or take their business elsewhere.
Just as patients don’t visit the hospital to talk about money, doctors don’t go into healthcare to focus on planning people’s personal budgets. But when hospitals don’t provide adequate financial planning, that’s exactly what happens. And soon enough, you’ll start to see frustrated patients and physicians migrating over to your competition.
Solving the Financial Dimension Empowers Providers to Focus on Clinical Care
The solution to these issues is to be proactive in addressing patient financial planning. If patients don’t have a detailed financial plan when they see their doctor, they should at least have confidence and peace of mind that those issues will be manageable going forward.
Loyale’s approach to this challenge is centered on using technology to facilitate patient financial engagement. Our platform provides tools for both parties, helping hospitals provide transparency and providing patients with practical, affordable options for meeting their obligations.
This approach works because most patients are willing to pay for their care, as long as they can fit medical payments into their household budget. But if they find themselves face-to-face with an unexpected bill for thousands of dollars, and the hospital’s only advice is “we accept the following major credit cards”—a lot of people will just stick the bill in a drawer and try to put it out of their mind, because they just can’t imagine a way to pay without disrupting their whole life.
Dealing with financial stress is doubly difficult when a patient is already facing a stressful health issue. When a person is struggling to overcome an injury or a serious illness, they want to focus on their recovery, not their bank account. Physicians and hospital staff want the same thing, and if they can’t do that, then both the patient and provider will start looking at other options (i.e. your competition).
In this way, the financial dimension of healthcare affects every aspect of hospitals’ business—not just revenue but also the loyalty of customers and employees. To retain highly valued physicians, hospitals must prevent financial issues from encroaching on clinical experiences. And the only way to do this is to solve those financial challenges in advance through transparent estimates, proactive planning, and a commitment to working with patients in a practical, solution-oriented process.
The most obvious reason for this is that patients themselves are responsible for an increasingly large share of their medical bills. However, it would be a mistake to think that only the patient’s portion of revenue is at risk. Patients actually drive all healthcare spending, because if they go to another provider, they take their insurance card—and 100% of payments from commercial or government payers—out the door with them.
In recognition of this fact, providers need to engage patients in financial planning earlier and more effectively to defend their market share and revenue.
The Financial Dimension of Care Has a Huge Impact on Patient Satisfaction
Unfortunately, the goodwill built up from a positive clinical experience is quickly lost when a patient has a negative financial experience. You can deliver the best care a patient has ever received, but if they feel like they are being treated unfairly or squeezed to pay unaffordable bills, they will no longer look at your organization the same way.
There are multiple reasons why a patient can have a negative financial experience even after a positive clinical outcome. A few common examples include:
- Feeling overwhelmed by unexpected costs or the total amount due
- Frustration or confusion caused by receiving multiple bills
- Lack of payment options that work for their budget
If the patient hasn’t been sufficiently engaged in financial planning until this point, the burden of payment often becomes an intractable, overwhelming problem for the patient. They believe that they can’t possibly meet their obligations, so they become angry and standoffish, or stop responding to the hospital’s communications altogether.
Patients Expect Transparency and Personalized Payment Options
In the era of Netflix and AirBnB, consumers have become accustomed to having many options and being able to select the plan that works for their budgets. People take these expectations into their encounters with healthcare providers. If you aren’t able to work with them on their terms, they’ll be more likely to end up going to a retail-style clinic or another hospital that has better adapted to the changing marketplace.
Concerns about the cost of care have become a major driver of patient behavior. In addition to losing patients to competitors, you also have to worry about patients delaying or abandoning care. A worst-case scenario for a hospital often occurs when the organization has started incurring the costs of planning or implementing a treatment plan, only to have the patient walk away because they’re overwhelmed by the cost.
The risk of care abandonment is another reason why transparency and proactive financial planning are essential. Patients are more likely to follow through when they have time to understand their personal responsibility, consult with their insurer, and work out a payment plan. Going through this process also helps ensure that patients will be prepared to fulfill their obligations in a timely manner.
Providers Can Turn This Challenge into an Opportunity
Ensuring that patients can meet their financial responsibility is important, but it shouldn’t be your only goal. You should be striving to turn each patient into a net promoter: someone who actively advocates for your organization by returning in the future and recommending you to family, friends, and coworkers. When patient populations give your organization a high net-promoter score, you can not only defend, but also grow your market share.
To reach this goal, you need to provide a financial experience that matches the high level of quality you deliver on the clinical side. You need to be proactive in engaging patients on financial issues and finding payment options that work for everyone. This is especially true of the rising millennial generation, which will be responsible for making the majority of all healthcare decisions within just a few years.
Loyale’s approach to this challenge is focused on leveraging technology to improve patient financial engagement and meet expectations around personalization, transparency, and proactive planning. Our solution includes both tools for the hospital revenue department and patient-facing features such as our affordability workbench.
Our system helps evaluate each patient’s ability and willingness to pay. It then develops financial options that work for the patient’s budget within the boundaries of the provider’s business requirements. This approach makes the process much easier for both parties and dramatically improves the patient financial experience—making it far more likely that each person who visits the hospital for care will end up becoming a net promoter for the institution.