Patient Engagement of the Financial Kind

Christopher Cheney, March 21, 2016

As patients adapt to their heightened financial responsibilities, health systems and hospitals must help make sure patients pay for as much of their bills as possible.

This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

With more healthcare costs shifting to patients through high-deductible health plans and other trends, health systems and hospitals are facing the need to develop a new skill: asking patients for more money. To rise to this challenge, revenue cycle innovators are engaging patients as financial partners from hospital registration to bill collection, and every point in between.

"In today's healthcare environment, everybody owes something for their healthcare, and this is a cultural shift," says Jane Berkebile, system vice president of revenue cycle for OhioHealth in Columbus. In the fiscal year ending June 2013, OhioHealth posted total revenue at $2.1 billion, with net income pegged at $348.7 million.

This cultural shift includes a patient learning curve laden with risk for healthcare providers, she says. "Very few people budget for healthcare expenses. It usually comes as a surprise for them. … If someone has a health incident and they have a $10,000 deductible, that's a big shock to them."

As patients adapt to their heightened financial responsibilities, health systems and hospitals must reach out early and often to help make sure patients pay for as much of their bills as possible, Berkebile says. "We're more likely to get paid if there is at least an expectation that there is an out-of-pocket expense and we expect the patient to pay it."

While rising to this bill-collection challenge, healthcare providers must avoid pressing their patients too hard, she says. "We walk a very fine line. … We don't want to be seen as having heavy-handed tactics. It's more a conversation."

Christopher Cheney

Christopher Cheney is the senior finance editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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