Patient self-service:

Nov. 14, 2017
Paul Hoffman Vice President, Product Development, Experian Health

As more patients enroll in high-deductible insurance plans, the need for health systems to collect patient fees in a timely manner is becoming more critical. To accommodate this need, many health systems have turned to online bill-paying options so patients can make electronic payments. While this will assist patients in making an electronic payment, many times the design of these online bill pay systems do not consider that our patient populations are very experienced in the new electronic consumerism model and are no longer willing to put up with confusing bills—even if they can pay it online.

This was evident when Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) implemented a basic online bill-paying solution five years ago. CCHMC, one of the oldest and most distinguished pediatric hospitals in the United States, with nearly 600 registered beds and serving patients from all 50 states and 53 countries—experienced very low user rates. Of the millions of patients receiving care, only 900 families used the hospital’s payment portal—despite concerted efforts to encourage its use. The hospital’s bill paying system wasn’t user-friendly, didn’t combine hospital and physician statements, and often increased confusion about statements.

This meant patient families relied instead on two- to four-page paper statements. Paper statements were cumbersome and costly to produce and distribute. In addition, any informational updates or message changes the hospital wanted to make to the statements were time-consuming and expensive. Changing something as simple as a phone number or office hours could take weeks to implement, and cost thousands of dollars. Clearly, a better approach was needed.

Self-service portals improve the patient experience

As in retail, the healthcare consumer experience is paramount. Knowing this, CCHMC wanted to tailor an online bill-paying service that put patient families in the driver’s seat to ensure a positive experience. While attending an Epic user group meeting, CCHMC learned about a solution that could give patient families the tools they need to easily and effectively manage their healthcare expenses online. The CCHMC team was intrigued by the capabilities of Experian Health’s Patient Self-Service online business office. Among the many features that impressed CCHMC was the ability to use a multichannel approach that combines hospital and physician bills into one online financial engagement dashboard and patient statement for families. The solution accelerates statement changes and reduces mailing expenses. Additionally, CCHMC would be able to route all patient payments to the different bank accounts of the hospital and the physician.

After several demonstrations and onsite visits, the CCHMC team was convinced the solution would provide a significant improvement to its current approach. A short time later, CCHMC implemented the consumer-friendly, mobile-compatible self-service portal, which allowed patient families to request price estimates, apply for charity care, set up automatic payment plans, update insurance information, combine payments to hospitals and physicians, schedule appointments, email questions, go paperless and even set up a page to raise money via social media channels to pay for medical expenses.

The portal’s self-service tools gave patient families a full picture of their up-to-date hospital and professional services account information and insurance explanation of benefits data.

To ensure the portal delivered a seamless user experience, all pages were branded to match the hospital’s website. Again, with convenience in mind, disparate hospital and physician billing systems were consolidated into a single dashboard, making it easier for families to manage their healthcare costs and make payments. To meet the growing consumer demand for mobile connectivity, the Patient Self-Service solution enabled CCHMC to communicate with patient families via secure email and/or SMS (short message service) text, depending on their selected preferences. This alone improved the patient experience by creating a more responsive relationship between healthcare providers and patients.

Build it and they will come: User rates soar

Like the baseball diamond built in the rural cornfield in the hit film Field of Dreams, implementing a better payment solution turned into an instant draw for patient families. Without any marketing promotion to support it—save for a note on the hospital’s revamped paper statement—the new CCHMC portal was an immediate success. In the first year, user rates increased more than tenfold.

“Since we began using Patient Self-Service, enrollments increased from 900 to more than 45,000,” explained Christopher Lah, Senior Director of Customer Service and Financial Resources, CCHMC.

Offering a single sign-on between Patient Self-Service and CCHMC’s own patient portal made it convenient for patient families to access vital information, such as estimates for services; schedule appointments; and see hospital and physician bills through a single portal and then make online payments or set up a payment plan.

For CCHMC, the Patient Self-Service portal more than proved its worth, allowing the hospital to increase revenues. In the first six weeks, the hospital collected more than it had in six months with its previous bill portal. In addition to reducing bad debt by making it easier for patients to pay or find alternative ways to raise funds, the portal reduced manual processing, thus increasing staff productivity and lowering costs. In the first year, CCHMC saved $70,000 in its monthly invoicing for patient statements due to lower printing and mailing costs.

“Our online payments increased from $200,000 to more than $800,000 per month. Plus, we now can do real-time statement changes free of charge. With our previous vendor, we were being charged $1,000 for a something as simple as a basic phone number change,” concluded Lah.

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