3 ways healthcare organizations should respond to shifts in patient financial responsibility

Dr. Elizabeth Woodcock shares three ways healthcare organizations can stay up to date with changes in patient financial responsibility.
Operations Patient Experience RCM

Insurance deductibles have nearly doubled over the past decade, forcing patients to pay for an increasing share of their healthcare costs. That mounting financial responsibility has fundamentally shifted how and when healthcare organizations get paid, but unfortunately, many organizations have not yet realigned their financial processes to reflect this new reality.

In a recent Phreesia webinar, nationally recognized practice management expert Elizabeth Woodcock, DrPH, MBA, FACMPE, CPC, reflected on the revenue cycle’s dramatic change and offered advice on how healthcare organizations can update their workflows to increase time-of-service collections and enhance the patient financial experience. Keep reading to learn three ways that healthcare organizations can stay up to date:

1. Upgrade your technology to support flexible patient payments
Although healthcare organizations quickly upgraded their virtual-care technology out of necessity in the early days of the pandemic, Woodcock notes that less attention has been paid to optimizing patient payments.

“As healthcare organizations, collecting money wasn’t the first thing on your mind as you extended telemedicine to your patients in a matter of weeks, but as we look back, it’s time to create a solution where patient financial responsibility fits squarely into the current state,” Woodcock said.

Now that many patients are responsible for an ever-greater share of their healthcare costs, medical practices need tools that enable them to collect more at the time of service.

Automated eligibility and benefits (E&B) verification can save staff time by quickly identifying patients’ remaining deductibles and copay amounts before their visit. With automated E&B verification, organizations can collect payment before patients leave their office and avoid relying on paper statements or emails that may get ignored. In addition, keeping patients’ credit cards on file can make this process quick and easy for patients and staff alike, allowing staff to simply ask patients, “May I charge your balance to the card we have on file for you?”

2. Offer patients flexible and convenient payment options
Many patients have deductibles that total thousands of dollars and apply to visits with your organization—about 28% of covered workers were enrolled in a high-deductible plan in 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That level of financial responsibility makes it vital for practices to be able to offer patients online payment options and payment plans that make it easier for patients follow through on their balance.

In addition, if practice staff offer a payment plan to patients, they should ask them how much time they need to pay off their balance, rather than suggesting a set amount of time, Woodcock advises. This approach lets patients establish a payment plan they can manage without stretching out their payments over more time than they actually need. Technology can help streamline this process and avoid awkward financial conversations that may make patients feel stigmatized by allowing them to set up their payment plan on their own during self-service intake and make payments 24/7 via an online platform.  

However, medical practices also should have policies in place that require a minimum balance payment—Woodcock recommends a minimum of $25 per payment—so that the practice can be sure it’s covering its various costs to collect and not extending the revenue cycle too far.

“While we’ve historically given patients as long as six months, nine months or even 12 months to pay off a balance, we’ve really got to rethink that, particularly in today’s environment, where at the very most, we’re looking at a 90-day cycle, and we start that cycle at Day Zero—the visit,” Woodcock said. She also recommends that healthcare organizations regularly remind patients about their outstanding balances. Automated payment reminders can support consistent collections, even when staff are stretched thin because of labor shortages.

3. Train employees on the changing revenue cycle
Technology makes collecting patient payments easier, but staff still need to understand how the revenue cycle has changed so they can adjust their workflows and conversations accordingly.

“We should be training our staff about the situation at large, not just the scripting,” Woodcock said. “It’s important to take a step back and make sure your team knows that the payment process can be complex for patients.”

Managers should make sure that their staff can answer basic questions about the payments process and are familiar with common healthcare finance terms, so they can accurately guide patients as needed. Organizations that use digital-payment solutions should not only educate their staff on how those solutions can support them, but also on when they should step in and investigate overdue balances, for example, or work through more complex financial issues with patients.

By prompting patients to pay online before, during and after their visits, healthcare organizations can take the awkwardness out of these sensitive interactions and ensure that payment requests are made the same way every time. Relieving staff of this growing burden allows them to use their time more effectively and focus on providing a positive patient experience.    

Learn how Phreesia can streamline patient payments and help you better anticipate your patients’ financial responsibility.