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How Novant Health is Embracing Consumerism

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   July 11, 2016

The North Carolina-based health system has adopted billing and other strategies to boost patient satisfaction.

The Consumer Age is dawning in the healthcare industry, and Novant Health has seen the light.

April York, senior director of patient financial services at the Winston-Salem, NC-based health system, says Novant is committed to engaging its patients as financial partners.

"Patients are becoming savvier and much more engaged in shopping around for affordable healthcare, and they also have a better understanding of their insurance plans than in the past," she says.

Related: How Real is Healthcare Consumerism?

"We have an obligation to further invest in their healthcare and help educate patients about the financial aspects of healthcare, including the unseen costs of care and how care setting affects cost. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure our patients have a remarkable experience, and we strive to retain each patient as a lifetime partner by minimizing the stress of financial obligations," she says.

Novant, which posted 2015 patient service revenue of $4.06 billion, has launched several patient financial engagement initiatives in recent years, including charge master standardization, development of a patient cost estimator tool, and the ability (through a third party) to allow patients to pay off medical bills with monthly payments.

The nonprofit health system has also developed consolidated statements that display both hospital and physician charges.

But sending out "single bills" for all patients poses significant challenges, York says. "All data for services provided by Novant Health ambulatory and acute locations are housed together, which makes it relatively easy to navigate in billing."

For services initiated beyond the health system's ambulatory and acute locations, "it's much more challenging to consolidate billing because each provider utilizes independent systems."

As a result, she says, the organization is "unable to include those providers, such as radiologists, anesthesiologists, and emergency room staff, on a single bill. We are currently exploring possibly utilizing a third-party vendor partner for bill consolidation in the long-term."

Novant surgeons perform more than 120,000 procedures annually, and there are 4 million patient visits to the health system's physician practices each year. For large health systems such as Novant, the most daunting challenge in engaging patients as financial partners is crafting engagement approaches that accommodate the diversity found in large patient populations, York says.

She says the biggest challenge is understanding how each segment group wants to be engaged, since different patients want to be involved in their billing process at different levels.

"While one patient may want a quick notification of any updates, another may require constant contact with one of our financial navigators. We want to be sure to respond accordingly, " York says.

One of Novant's strategic imperatives is "focused on the human experience. To strengthen our patient partnership efforts, we collaborated with our marketing team to see how best to address the needs across our diverse patient segments, and we hired an external firm to support this work within our revenue cycles," she says.

Patient loyalty metrics show that the health system is already generating tangible results from its patient financial engagement initiatives, York says.

"In a survey of more than 540 patients, 92% of those surveyed indicated they were likely to choose Novant Health for their healthcare needs due to our zero-interest loan program for services provided by our acute facilities. In addition, 86% said they would recommend Novant Health to family and friends."

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.

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