The shift toward a more consumer-driven healthcare environment has impacted nearly every aspect of patient care and medical practice management. In the short period of time since U.S. healthcare reform ‘took off’ around 2011, hospitals and medical offices have grown accustomed to many new norms: care coordination and value-based payments; Meaningful Use and quality reporting; self-purchased patient insurance; and primarily paperless revenue cycle management (RCM) processes.
A consumer-focused healthcare system is designed to put patients’ wants, needs, and care at the center of the entire healthcare experience. Yet there’s one area in which patients are continuing to cry out for more clarity: patient medical billing.
From the inside, medical practices and hospitals understand the complexity the medical billing process – but from the outside, patients often find it confusing and difficult to navigate. (That’s partly why many long-running practices, like balance billing, are increasingly coming under regulatory scrutiny.) But a shift in billing practices in expectations is finally emerging, with groups like the Healthcare Financial Management Association and others seeking to educate providers on how to make medical billing more “patient-friendly.”
Medical billing statements are one area of the billing process in which hospitals and medical practices have long served patients poorly – relying on confusing forms that patients find hard to read and even harder to understand. And bad billing statements have a doubly negative impact on medical practices: They lessen patient satisfaction, and make it more difficult for practices to collect unpaid balances.
It’s important to revisit your billing statements regularly to keep them updated and make sure they’re as clear and streamlined as possible. Take a look at yours now, and see if you can improve them by following the tips below. (If you work with a medical billing company, make them send their template your way for review – and if you find it too complex, compel them to take action.)
Good Design Matters: Make sure your statement doesn’t look the same as it did in 1990. A modern, clean template with an easy-to read font (in large, highly legible typeface) is clearest for patients.
Cover the Basics Clearly: Outline all of the information patients need to know in a clear, bulleted list, including: Description of services provided; summary of total charges; amounts already paid by insurance companies and/or patients; amount patient still owes; Clear direction on next steps (pay, call the insurance company, etc.).
Outline the Options: If patients remain confused by your billing statement, or are unable to pay the full balance, can they tell what their options are from the information you provide? Make it very clear to patients that they have options beyond ignoring the statement until their account goes to collections. If possible, provide the name, phone number, and email address of a billing contact at your office who can assist them with issues. And provide multiple options for payment: Many patients are more likely to pay what they can online upon receipt of a statement than to send in a check for a partial amount.
...and if you need help from a medical billing company...