The importance of a patient’s relationship to their hospital cannot be overstated, particularly when it comes to paying their bill. But for most hospitals, outsourcing the billing and payment process is the best way to assure compliance, efficiency and resolution on their accounts. With proper consideration and the right partner, it is possible to outsource these processes — and even improve the patient experience, by doing so.
Understand your patient concerns
First, determine the concerns that your patients might have when they are speaking to someone that has not previously helped them make payments. Some patients may be apprehensive when making payments with someone they do not know.
Your patients are justified in being wary of a payment process that is new to them. The best thing you can do as a provider is make sure your self-pay vendor has the expertise and resources to quickly alleviate these concerns and responsibly manage those patient relationships.
What you should expect from your Early Out/Self-Pay vendor
Let’s walk through what you should expect from your early-out service in terms of technical capabilities and personal communication. With the proper capabilities and expertise, third-party vendors should be able to effectively address any concern you and your patient have.
First, make sure the patient account representatives have extensive training and professional certifications. We require all call representatives to become Certified Revenue Cycle Specialists through the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management. Certifications like these ensure that the people who communicate with your patients have an in-depth understanding of the hospital revenue cycle and industry best practices.
Professional certifications are a strong starting point, but you should make sure any prospective partner engages in continuing education and review, both for the customer service representatives and the management team. An investment in staff development goes a long way in maintaining compliance, maximizing patient satisfaction, and achieving resolution on accounts. As many hospitals and health systems cut budgets for continuing education as operating margins decline, a partner who invests in this can be a tremendous asset to your organization.
Another factor to consider is whether these representatives will have a comprehensive understanding of your specific facility. The goal is that it will not even occur to your patients they are speaking to someone outside of the hospital facility. You should be confident that the representatives know your organization well enough to be able to guide a patient on where in your hospital to go if they wish to pay in person. It is this level of detail that will diminish patient concerns.
The representatives in contact with your patients might not live in your tight-knit community, but if they have a strong understanding of your facility and a commitment to implement your best practices, patient concerns will be quickly alleviated.
Technical capabilities will also play a crucial role in a successful self-pay process. A report from the Healthcare Financial Management Association, notes that patients are empowered by choice. “Providers therefore should evaluate the extent to which they are offering patients the range of options that truly make patients feel empowered,” the report states.
For small and large hospitals alike, offering a range of payment options may seem daunting. This is another way an outside partnership can prove useful. By offering the technology and resources to accept payment via phone, web or 24/7 automated systems, patients will have the ability to pay when and how they like — feeling more empowered while doing so.
Most important, your partner in self-pay should be able to meet the needs that are unique to you. The ability to create a fully-customized workflow should be present the day you sign and continue for the entire duration of the partnership. As your facility changes to suit the needs of your community, your partner should similarly be able to adapt to best serve you. From the reports you receive to what is communicated to your patients, the power and flexibility should remain with you.
A win for your patients and for you
There are significant benefits providers gain by not being so closely tied to the payment and account management process. For hospitals in small communities, it can be difficult for staff to separate close relationships from the decision-making process. Many hospitals are faced with thin to non-existent operating margins and do not have the allowance to reduce or forgive balances owed to their facility – even for patients with whom they have formed strong friendships.
Feelings of stress or guilt can be removed from the situation, and staff whose responsibilities are newly covered are able to increase the scope and quality of their work in other important and higher ROI areas of your revenue cycle.
Patients, too, have much to gain from this transition. Third-party vendors offer access to a suite of tools and services that may have been out of reach for hospitals operating alone. As an example, Magnet Solutions can combine charges from multiple provider locations, hospital or clinic, into one easy to understand statement.
Where to start?
Outsourcing patient responsibility account management can seem like a long and strenuous process — but it does not have to be. A reputable partner will shoulder the bulk of the implementation work. Your duty is to select the right vendor for you.
Think about the culture and background of the company. It is okay if they don’t reside in the same region as your facility, but if they only work in metropolitan areas and you represent a critical access hospital in the rural Midwest, as an example, inherent differences in culture and operations may make for a poor fit.
Avoiding patient woes when making this transition will surely be a priority for your facility. Business as usual may seem like the safest option, but from our years of experience, we know it is possible to overcome the concerns of patients and bolster the financial performance of providers with the help of a professional self-pay vendor.