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Lack of Price Transparency Biggest Factor to Negative Patient Experience

Analysis  |  By Jack O'Brien  
   August 06, 2019

Patients are seeking a more seamless process at hospitals, but often lack the proper financial literacy.

More than a quarter of patients said they had a negative experience during their last hospital visit because of a lack of price transparency, according to a Waystar survey released Tuesday morning.

The second-leading cause was insurance coverage at 19%, followed by complex medical bills at 15%, lack of support through the payment process at 13%, and other factors at 11%. Lack of communication and confusing payment options both registered single digit support from respondents.

Further complicating the negative patient experience at hospitals is the trailing healthcare financial literacy among consumers, the survey found, with millennials suffering the most among generations polled.

Waystar CEO Matt Hawkins told HealthLeaders that patients are procuring health services without much information or the capability to price-shop, with some even forgoing care to avoid bills.

More than a quarter of respondents between the ages of 18 and 39 said they had forgone a life-improving procedure due to cost.

"The real takeaway is we need to make the patient financial experience more contemporary and more consumer-like, and there are a lot of opportunities to leverage technology to make that more consumer-like," Hawkins said. "Whether it's to make a bill easier for [the consumer] so they can see what the total balance is without having to read through a bunch of hard, complex healthcare-specific language and information, or presenting online savings options."

Hawkins added that systems should embrace technology, whether through text messages or automated emails, to connect with patients and "remove the communication burden."

Related: Nearly 4 in 5 CFOs Plan to Invest More in Digital Transformation

Waystar's findings also point to a significant disparity between what patients know about price differentiation and what they do with that information.. 

Only 12% of surveyed patients price-shopped prior to treatment, with nearly 40% saying they did not price shop because they did not know prices varied. Similarly, only 21% of patients talked or planned to talk about their final bill.

This trend also varied along generational lines, as millennials were twice as likely as baby boomers to discuss their final medical bill.

Millennials face the largest burden for costs, with more than one-third owing at least $100 out-of-pocket for treatment and only 60% having paid their latest bill in full. 

Related: As Hospitals Post Price Lists, Consumers Are Asked To Check Up On Them

More than 40% of overall respondents indicated that they would like to be offered a payment plan but about one-quarter stated they had been offered one for bill resolution. Of that percentage offered a payment plan, nearly 70% utilized the option.

Hawkins said health systems looking to implement a contemporary consumer experience need to provide information to patients in a clear way that provides status updates in a timely fashion. However, he noted, obtaining that accessible and digestible information is usually a challenge. 

"The fact is that most healthcare financial administrators are beholden to legacy systems that don't actually make it easy to understand the insurance company-to-healthcare provider payment reimbursement process," Hawkins said. "Legacy systems use legacy clearinghouses and obfuscate that information. So [leaders] can't truly optimize the patient side unless they can gather the information from the insurance company and provider side to truly create an optimized experience."

Related: Trump Issues Executive Order on Healthcare Price Transparency

Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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