The Link Between Patient Engagement & Reimbursement

November 8, 2016 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Meaningful Use Stage 2, Practice Management, Medical Billing Company

Especially in the increasingly value-based landscape of medical billing, boosting patient engagement levels is a priority of most modern medical practices. But even for those organizations that have yet to embrace the shift to quality over volume, patient engagement remains far more valuable from a financial perspective than most organizations realize.

Given the growing infiltration of consumer-driven technology in healthcare – mobile devices, for example – doctors understand that connecting to existing patients using digital technologies can boost overall satisfaction. According to a recent study, there’s greater alignment on engagement than ever before: Now that 76 percent of patients say technology has the potential to improve their health, 84 percent of physicians believe patient engagement is beneficial.

Undoubtedly, it is. Technologically engaged patients have 15 percent fewer hospital readmissions than their peers, and experience 17 percent fewer medical errors (creating savings for doctors from a legal liability standpoint).

Yet fee-for-service reimbursement concerns continue to dominate doctors’ mindsets regarding whether or not to invest in engagement-focused technologies: 75 percent of physicians state that the lack of reimbursement is a barrier for using secure messaging, and 42 percent believe there is “insufficient payment for patient engagement” at large.

Viewed from a medical billing perspective, they’re correct. Beyond Meaningful Use EHR incentives, ACO participation, and the (burdensome to acquire) potential payouts of MIPS and MACRA, doctors earn little direct monetary reward for investing in engagement-driving technologies. But there’re more to ROI than rewards… and the true reality of financial incentivizing is a little more nuanced.

Digital engagement may be an area where doctors and medical practice managers don’t expect a return on their financial investment, but it is a deep source of long-term ROI for more than just patient outcomes. In the aforementioned study, 76 percent of healthcare leaders surveyed saw positive ROI from personalization technologies, such text messaging, and other digital engagement efforts.

The results are twofold: Direct, and indirect. In a straightforward way, digital-first thinking is helpful to practices from a marketing perspective: Using online scheduling and improving online presence can bring in as much as 20 percent more patients to medical practices. Personalized appointment reminders reduce no-shows significantly, increasing per-physician revenue.

Then there’s the more intangible impact that engagement can have on reimbursement – an impact that stems from driving a stronger relationship between a medical establishment and its patient base.

Consider this: Nine of every ten patients wants to share decision-making with their provider, and two-thirds of patients would switch providers for access to medical records online. Among those groups, which kind of provider do you expect would be more likely to earn timely, in-full payments from loyal patients: One with a digital engagement strategy, or one without?

The key for doctors is to think beyond the immediate costs of investing in tech to the long-term benefits: Healthier, happier patients who are more likely to pay for services they truly value. Coupled with a smart approach to back-office operations (in partnership with a trusted medical billing service), practices that invest in digital engagement can see improved bottom line outcomes over time.

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