Ready For Price Transparency? Your Patients Are

Historically, patients weren’t aware of what a certain procedure or treatment would cost them until they received their bills afterward. That was the time of fee-for-service. Yet with the era of pay-for-performance fast approaching, more hospitals becoming increasingly focused on accountable care. Providing patients with a tentative bill right when they enter the health system or asking patients to pay right at the point of service is on the rise. Hospitals that invest in mobile or e-commerce solutions will end up seeing higher patient satisfaction – and becoming more competitive.

Since the Affordable Care Act started coming into effect, patients have begun to be more aware of the details of their medical payments, and many are starting to value price transparency. According to a recent survey, patients scrutinized their medical bills more last year. Not only did patients want to know the details of what they owed, such as their copayments and out-of-pocket expenses, but the survey also found patients linked their billing experience to their overall satisfaction with the hospital. In fact, price transparency and medical billing were found to be important factors in a patient’s choice of providers. Many health systems invest valuable resources in creating a great experience for patients while they’re receiving care, and may not realize the more external aspect of patient payments greatly impact how patients view the organization. As hospitals try to navigate this dramatic shift in the health care community, investing in patient friendly billing couldn’t come sooner.

Patient awareness off medical bills on the rise
TransUnion Healthcare, an information and risk management provider, received 1,039 responses from insured Americans for its latest survey on patient billing experiences. According to the survey, 55 percent of participants said they paid closer attention to their medical financial statements over the past year. Sixty-seven percent wanted to specifically examine how much of their bills was covered by their insurance as well as how much they personally owed.

According to the study, patients are linking cost estimation and their patient billing experience with their overall quality of care. Seventy-three percent of respondents who gave high marks to a hospital’s payment process also gave strong scores for care quality and experience. The study especially noted that when patients received their payment information before they headed to undergo a treatment or procedure, they were more likely to look favorably on their experience in the health system.

“As consumer healthcare costs increase, coupled with an expanding number of insured resulting from the health care reform law, patients by necessity are becoming more educated consumers, and thus, it will become more important than ever for hospitals and health systems to be transparent with the cost of care they provide,” said Milton Silva-Craig, president of TransUnion. “With patients linking their billing experience to their assessment of overall care quality, providers need to ensure they provide timely, accurate information for consumers to improve patient satisfaction.”

The unique characteristics of the patient billing process were found to be especially important to patients. According to the survey, patient-friendly billing was so important that it was seen as just as significant in provider decisions as medical reputations and consultations. Being able to easily determine the cost of services was seen to be so paramount to patients that respondents ranked it No. 2 in importance. Creating a clear billing process and providing patients with information right when they arrive, or at the front-end of the hospital, is going to be essential for hospitals in the future.

States developing price transparency legislation
No one can doubt the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a key driver for the migration toward value-based care, yet many hospitals might not realize just how important patient friendly billing is to patients. According to Forbes, price transparency is gaining ground within the medical community, as a certain procedure’s cost can vary from state to state and hospital to hospital. To improve patient collections, many states have even began implementing special laws. According to an op-ed on Kaiser Health News, some states are requiring insurers to disclose how much a test or treatment will cost the patient. However, patients still feel the burden of needing to ask for payment information.

Self service patient payments make the patient billing experience simple and straightforward, making it easier for patients to understand their medical bills. According to the Kaiser article, this is exactly what patients want – and will continue to want. Price transparency is becoming more valuable to consumers, and patient-friendly billing might be the only way for hospitals to stay competitive.