As patient financial responsibility continues to rise, some healthcare organizations may struggle to optimize patient bill pay protocols. Digital bill pay tools may be helpful in resolving those problems by making the process more convenient for the patient.
At Family Health Care Medical Group of Modesto, for example, practice leaders struggled with efficiency and outdated procedures.
“Our number one problem was that our billing staff was only available to take payments by phone during normal business hours,” said Tabitha Hickerson, CPC, the practice’s billing department manager, in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com.
This limited when patients could call for their medical bills or to make a payment, causing inconvenience. As the industry faces increasing out-of-pocket patient costs, it was important that the practice be able to fix these issues, ultimately improving the patient experience.
“The biggest goal was just to make things easier for the patient and to automate things a little bit more. Just to streamline and create more efficiency,” Hickerson said.
“We had received quite a few patient complaints – it was difficult to reach us, even when they were calling to make their payments and they didn’t have a question about their bill or anything like that.”
Family Health Care enlisted Navicure’s online patient payment services to streamline this process and enhance patient bill pay. Patients receive their statements in the mail and can then log into an online portal to make their payments.
“[Electronic bill pay] pretty much allowed us to be able to solve the problem with our availability by giving the patients an online solution for them to make their payments,” Hickerson said. “No more of that phone tag – us calling regarding the balance, and them calling us back, and then us calling them back.”
The online system has provided a considerable improvement to the patient experience by making bill pay more convenient. That has had a positive impact on all patients, Hickerson said, but especially patients who work during normal business hours.
“It’s already hard enough for them to take the time off from work to have the doctor’s appointment, and then trying to take breaks or lunches to try and call and pay their bills,” she explained.
Another aspect of her practice’s patient billing revolution was establishing patient payment plans. Hickerson and her team saw a need to help patients manage rising out-of-pocket costs.
“As primary care physicians, our number one focus is patient care,” she said. “With patient out-of-pockets continuing to grow each year, we wanted our patients to be able to have the peace of mind to make treatment decisions based off of medical necessity and not their finances.”
Research from The Physicians Foundation shows that one in four patients skip medical treatments because of cost. Family Health Care’s payment plans aim to fix that problem, Hickerson said. Instead of foregoing care, patients are able to work with the practice to set up a payment option that will work for them.
“For us, letting patients know that we’re willing to work with them on the balance, it provides a sense of compassion to their health and shows them that it’s not all about the money, as important as that is,” she noted.
Family Health Care offers myriad customized payment plans, she explained, based off different patient qualities.
“We customize our plans to each individual patient based on a number of things such as their overall patient health, their total balance, and income constraints,” Hickerson said. Other important factors include balance history and if the patient is managing a chronic condition, she added.
“We definitely have a pretty wide spectrum of [payment plans] available for our patients and they seem to be pretty happy with it,” Hickerson said.
Family Health Care’s patient payment overhaul isn’t complete yet, Hickerson said. Up until now, she and her team have taken an incremental approach, phasing in new patient-facing payment strategies one step at a time to ensure success. Next, the practice plans to implement electronic statements, allowing patients to receive their bills digitally.
While digital invoices will likely be convenient for Family Health Care’s younger patient populations, they will be especially helpful for patients with caregivers.
“For those senior patients, a lot of the times their children are the ones that are managing things,” Hickerson explained. “It actually makes it a little easier for them to handle things because it’s going directly to them as opposed to a statement that’s going out to their parent’s house that they physically have to go and get to pay the bills.”
While Family Health Care’s patient bill pay overhaul was a significant undertaking, Hickerson said its benefits have been numerous.
“It’s one of those things where you definitely have to work through it. I think every day we’re still finding other ways to better utilize the system to better automate things,” she concluded. “But it’s worth it.”