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How Should You Discuss Medical Bills with Patients?

Rene Letourneau, for HealthLeaders Media, November 4, 2013

"Hospital billing and collections is very complex, and the more you standardize the process, the more confidence the patient will have," Keel says, adding that the new standards will also encourage hospitals to step up their game when it comes to educating and retaining staff.

"I think the best practices are helpful. I think they put a higher burden on hospitals to train their staffs better. Those jobs are typically entry level, and the turnover rate is high," she says.

It's important to speak to patients about their medical bills while they are still in the hospital, particularly to determine if they are eligible for financial assistance, Keel says.

"I have found that by having that conversation earlier it helps me understand that patient's ability to pay," she says. "Once the patient leaves, it is almost impossible for me to connect with them. The sooner I understand their ability to pay, the easier it is for me to come up with a solution and get that balance paid."

Keel says the steering committee started by talking through several scenarios for discussing medical bills with patients and went from there to establish the best practices.

"Once we came up with ground rules around how you should deal with patient balances and where, a subgroup was formed of hospital registration people. That subgroup ironed out some of the details, which came back to the steering committee for review. Then, it was put out for public comment, and we did receive substantial comments."

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