Study: Patients Remain Confused, Frustrated by Complexity, Opacity of Healthcare Billing

Aug. 7, 2019
The results of a survey released on Aug. 6 as part of a study published by revenue cycle company Waystar, find that patients remain confused and frustrated by the complexity and opacity of healthcare billing

The results of a survey made public on Aug. 6 are finding that consumers remain confused and frustrated when it comes to navigating the process of honoring their financial obligations for the patient care they receive. Those results come out of a study, entitled “The Patient Financial experience: Consumer Attitudes and Behavior,” based on a survey conducted by Waystar, a Chicago-based provider of cloud-based revenue cycle technology solutions.

As a press release published today noted, “[T]he biggest barriers to a positive patient financial experience are lack of understanding around pricing, insurance coverage and complexity of medical bills.” Indeed, the press release noted, “Frustration with healthcare’s pricing failures has hit a boiling point, and new legislation is aimed at addressing the lack of transparency in the industry. But price transparency alone does not guarantee that patients will be able to make informed and responsible medical decisions; the missing link is healthcare financial literacy. Waystar’s survey shows that a quarter of patients find pricing too complicated to understand and a third don’t even know that prices vary. When asked about a recent planned or routine medical procedure, only about one in 10 patients compared costs across multiple providers in advance.”

What’s more, the press release noted, “Medical bills and associated debt are a growing concern population-wide, and Waystar’s study finds patients between the ages of 18 and 39 are hardest hit, with more than one in three choosing to delay or forgo care to keep bills at bay. ‘Surprise billing’ plays a significant role here: when asked about their last medical procedure, one in three patients said the amount of the bill they received was more than expected.” Meanwhile, the study found that “While the ability to pay a bill is the biggest issue at hand, the data reveals that customized patient financial encounters can have a significant impact on the patient experience and whether or not a bill gets paid.”

Key findings included the following:

>  Billing options matter: 37 percent of patients prefer to pay online, while only 6 percent prefer payment by phone

>  Patients’ top requests for a more positive experience include simpler bills that show the total balance (45 percent) and payment plan options (42 percent)

>  Learn from retail: While 42 percent of patients would like to be offered a payment plan, only a quarter said they have been offered one to resolve their bill

>  Open the lines of communication: 67 percent of patients have not and do not plan to discuss their final bill with the hospital

In releasing the study, Waystar CEO Matt Hawkins stated that,  “In an era of high-deductible health plans and increasing demands for price transparency, we’re glad to see a surge of legislation around price disclosure.” But, he added, “our study found that, even with improved price transparency, a one-size-fits-all approach to patient billing doesn’t make sense. There’s still a lot of information for patients to decipher and providers need to prioritize clear, tailored communication with patients. Only then will we truly build a better patient financial experience and revenue cycle.A pie chart entitled “Causes of a Negative Billing Experience,” found the following causes, in order of proportion:

>  price transparency (26 percent)

>  insurance coverage (23 percent)

>  complex medical bills (14 percent)

>  lack of support through payment process (11 percent)

>  other (10 percent)

>  lack of communication (9 percent)

>  confusing payment options (7 percent)

Meanwhile, only 12 percent of patients surveyed had price-shopped in advance of a planned or routine visit; and of those, 97 percent were under the age of 65. Among the 88 percent who had not price-shopped, 38 percent did not know that prices varied; 24 percent chalked it up to simply being too complicated to understand pricing; and 23 percent didn’t know how to comparison-shop.

What’s more, 21 percent of survey respondents had talked to or planned to talk to the hospital, to discuss their final bill, versus 79 percent of respondents who did not know or do not know if they were going to. But younger patients were twice as likely as Baby Boomer patients to discuss their bill.

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