Modernizing the patient financial experience at LifeBridge Health

John Talaga
John Talaga
is the Executive Vice President and General Manager in Healthcare.

In October, I had the opportunity to co-present at the Oracle Cerner Healthcare Conference with LifeBridge Health SVP and Chief Revenue Officer Joe Koons. LifeBridge is transforming their patient financial experience to help address affordability issues, accelerate collection rates and increase patient satisfaction. A replay of the presentation – about 45 minutes long – is available here, but I wanted to share a few highlights in shorter form below.

If you don’t know LifeBridge Health

It is one of the largest providers in Greater Baltimore with five acute care hospitals and over 1,900 beds. It also has a large medical group practice (960 providers) as well as home health, DME, and hospice services along with a large urgent care unit. In short, LifeBridge serves a lot of people with a lot of needs, and many are economically disadvantaged.

Playing catchup on the patient financial experience

These days, healthcare consumers act a lot less like patients and more like consumers. As they take on a greater share of their healthcare expenditures, they are also demanding payment solutions that give them more control by making the process more transparent, manageable, and affordable. In short, they expect it to be more like the rest of their life.

LifeBridge Health recognized this and wanted its patient payment experience to reflect this new reality – by simplifying its payment processes and providing a path to affordability, ease-of-use, patient engagement, and self-service. But first it had to overcome some key obstacles.

First and foremost, LifeBridge was behind on digital engagement and its patient financial experience suffered as a result. For example, each service provider in its system was sending separate statements to patients regardless of whether it was part of the same treatment. There was no single view of the patient’s balance, causing confusion and frustration for patients, slowing payment cycles and creating a lot of extra manual effort for LifeBridge’s revenue cycle team to collect and reconcile patient payments. Getting a hold of an agent to answer questions was also a challenge.

In addition, it was not easy for patients to access payment plans. It had always been viewed as a last resort for patients. The process had to be initiated by LifeBridge, requiring more staff time. LifeBridge wanted to promote payment plans more and make them more of a self-service activity.

Starting Over

According to Chief Revenue Officer Joe Koons, LifeBridge decided to “basically, blow it up and start over” to make the process simpler for all involved. That meant the whole process, e.g., how they invoiced patients, what information they made available from their EHR system, consolidating call centers, and enabling patients to do more things on their own.

Working with Flywire, they started by consolidating the charges from individual service providers onto a single statement so patients can see everything they are responsible for in one place. In addition, they offered convenient payment options and tailored payment installment plans to make their payments more affordable. The impact of these changes alone has been transformative:

  • Patients now have a clear understanding of their financial responsibility prior to care, and an affordable and personalized path to payment. This alone has had a huge positive impact on collection rates.
  • Proactive engagement via the patient’s preferred methods – email, text, and/or paper statements – drive patients to a modern, self-service financial experience.
  • Appointment reminders inform patients of their out-of-pocket expenses in advance. They can then make an initial payment or select a payment plan.
  • Predictive analytics enable personalized communications and payment plan offers tailored to each patient’s needs. This not only reduces collection costs, but also increases patient satisfaction.

Seeing the benefits of their efforts

Since going live with the Flywire solution in the summer of 2021, LifeBridge has seen significant improvements across several key metrics:

  • A 20% reduction in bad debt – about $10 million in annual expense
  • $7 million in additional payments annually on the hospital side alone
  • 71% of self-service payments are activated online; no staff time required
  • Over 2,000 payment plans in place, and growing every month
  • 4.4 out of 5 patient satisfaction rating
  • A 20% decrease in paper statements through statement consolidation

LifeBridge continues to see adoption of the new services expand – as evidenced by growth in digital payments, unassisted payments, and payment plan use.

Considerations for other healthcare organizations

LifeBridge’s experience provides some important lessons for other healthcare organizations pursuing payment modernization – from organizational readiness and business case development; to patient populations and payment methods; to EHR integration and IT collaboration.

  1. Are you as ready as your patients? Digital is their preferred method and that preference will continue to grow, across all age groups. You need to fully embrace the shift.

  2. “Mileage will vary” for each provider depending on the age of your patient population and their current payment habits. You can fully expect a big increase in demand for self-service payment, but which payment methods patients use will vary by age, region, socio-economic factors and more.

  3. Payment plans should be a first line of action vs. a last resort. This may represent a change in mindset for many providers.

  4. There is a lot more than software involved in making the shift. It requires new processes, the right people, and the right partners. All of those elements have to work together. Software will automate a lot of things, but only if you adjust the business processes that go with them.

  5. Related to the above, both Revenue Cycle Management and IT teams must be fully engaged and on board. Speeding payment cycles and reducing operational costs are key for revenue cycle management, but there is also integration with systems like finance, EHR, cyber-security as well as compliance and maintenance considerations which require IT involvement. Clearly define roles and responsibilities.

If you have time, the full replay is worth the watch. You get to hear directly from Joe Koons at LifeBridge Health.