Want more efficient payments? Archive patient statements

June 11, 2011

Because relatively little attention has been paid to “after care,” opportunities abound for improvement in this area — especially when it comes to billing patients in the 49-and-younger age group.

Nurses, doctors and administrative professionals work hard to satisfy patients. But what happens after the patient leaves the facility? Increasingly, healthcare organizations are taking important steps to maintain patient satisfaction after the visit, such as making the billing process easy and technologically friendly.

First consider the patient's perspective. Are statements confusing and frustrating? Do patients with billing questions sometimes contact the patient call center multiple times? Patients may lose their goodwill for the organization if paying their healthcare bill is more cumbersome than paying for cable TV. This means healthcare providers face a steep challenge because their services are often complex. But patients — especially younger patients — demand ease.

For example, a 2009 Press Ganey report notes that patients age 49 and younger are least satisfied with their healthcare experience. Younger generations are used to administrative ease and technological options. Most will want to enroll in electronic statements, which can improve patient satisfaction and operating efficiency. With electronic statements, information can be posted more quickly and accurately — and delivered faster and more securely. Further, electronic statements provide more options for payments and links to other online information such as upcoming appointments. Technologically advanced printed statements are also an option. For example, some printed statements can include the new 2D barcodes for easy linking via smartphone to an online payment portal.

Now consider the healthcare provider's perspective. Providers want to serve patients well and run efficiently. Patient statements are an important tool for both purposes. They can provide the data customers want and are therefore a valuable resource. The key to leveraging this often-overlooked resource is to create an easy-access archive of patient statements.

When patient statements are archived, front-desk and customer-service personnel can review past and current statements with patients at check-in — making the often-impersonal billing experience much more personal. In fact, the check-in process at the front desk can become an opportunity for patients to resolve questions, thereby saving call center resources later. And at the call center, when staff members can easily access all previously printed and mailed documents, their patient calls are smoother and more efficient.

Providers can also improve their ability to track cash flows when patient statements are archived. Managers can view documents both before and after distribution to patients (whether printed or online) and see precisely when payment was accepted. Statement data can then be aggregated for more robust reporting. In fact, the benefits to archiving for the provider extend from the front desk to the CFO's office — all levels of the business office have increased capacity for both reporting and engaging the patient knowledgably and efficiently.

How many months should be archived? Typically, the archive file should comprise at least 12 months of data, with some organizations benefiting from 16 or 24 months. The specific decision will vary based on audit requirements and whether customers may need documents for tax purposes. Also, some organizations may wish to maintain statement archives for longer periods, matching the duration to medical records maintained under HIPAA requirements (typically minimum six years).

Today's patients demand “after-care” services that are consistent with the high level of service that providers work to offer on-site. Effective patient billing is obviously important for good service. But don't stop there. Take the next step and use the data profitably by archiving patient statements, analyzing payment data and using the information to enhance payment processes.

About the author
Brian W. Kueppers is founder and CEO, APEX. APEX specializes in document design and analysis.
For more information on APEX solutions: http://www.apexprint.com.

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