Embracing the Financial Counseling Role
Revenue cycle teams boost their effort to engage patients financially.
This article first appeared in the December 2016 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Laurie Hurwitz is on a mission to revolutionize revenue cycle operations at Gundersen Health System and encourage other healthcare providers to align the bill collection process with a patient-centric approach to medicine.
Over the past three years, Hurwitz, the executive director of revenue cycle at the La Crosse, Wisconsin-based health system, has helped several initiatives that are designed to improve the nonprofit organization's financial engagement capabilities with patients, including the creation of a 17-member financial counseling staff. These initiatives have increased the up-front collection bill payments from patients, but that gain for Gundersen pales in significance compared to achieving fundamental change in the financial relationship between patients and the healthcare system, Hurwitz says.
"The fact that we weren't asking for money before is far less troubling than the fact that we weren't telling patients that something was going to cost them."
"To me, this isn't about increasing point-of-service collections. This is about making sure our patients are fully informed with all of the information that they need to make critical decisions. The fact that we weren't asking for money before is far less troubling than the fact that we weren't telling patients that something was going to cost them before they had it done. That's a very uncomfortable thing for people in healthcare to think about because we say that we don't want a patient deciding against having care because of what something costs; but the truth is, patients have the right to make that decision, and it is our responsibility to see to it that they have the information to make the decision that is right for them and right for their families."
Gundersen's financial counselors are playing a crucial role for patients, she says. "It is also incumbent on us to make sure patients understand there are resources out there that we can help them find. Everything from Medicaid to our own internal financial assistance program. It's not fair for patients to go through some of the very challenging medical treatments that they have to go through and their journey to get well while being worried about what it's going to cost when the bill shows up. And that's what everybody does."