Healthquake™: The Reluctant Patient – Part 1

The Healthquake™ is upending the relationship between patients and their medical providers. As the cost of care continues to rise, patients are changing their behavior. They are asking more questions, demanding more answers, and acting more like “customers” than ever before.

They are also confused by their bills and worried about medical costs, with significant numbers putting off care, skimping on medications, and falling behind in payments.

What does this mean for physicians, especially those working in private group practices? What can they do about this changing behavior so that both they and their patients are more satisfied?

We have identified 4 issues that are important to these “healthcare consumers”. In this issue of Healthquake™ we look at the first two along with ways to improve their experience with the healthcare system, which could lead to better reviews for medical providers, higher satisfaction scores, more referrals, and even better collections and payment. To read about the third and fourth issues – Sub-Optimal Clinical Experience and Sub-Optimal Office Experience, look for our next installment on May 3, 2022.

The first two issues are:

  1. Billing Confusion. Patients can’t understand their bills and don’t even understand basic terms such as “copay”.
  2. Costs and Payment Frustration. They don’t understand all their payment options. Younger patients want more digital options, and it could be a deal breaker if they don’t get them. Because of cost, many patients are avoiding doctors and pharmacies until their condition gets even more serious.

Billing Confusion

According to Patientco’s “State of the Patient Financial Experience”, 80% of patients are confused or frustrated when paying healthcare bills. Almost 40% said that medical billing language confuses them.

This confusion even extends to basic billing terminology. Insurance firm, Policygenius, conducted a survey that showed only 4% of Americans understood the meaning of all 4 of these common words – deductible, coinsurance, copay, and out-of-pocket maximum.

Is it any surprise that patients are frustrated and suspicious when they try to read their bill or are asked to pay part of it? Is it any surprise that some of these negative emotions attach to the medical provider or hospital?

There’s a simple way to reduce this stress and help make patients happier. Create or repurpose content that explain the basics of billing terminology, including how to understand the bills they get and display this content in the right places.

Use video and easy-to-understand printed material. Make sure it’s created by a skilled communications firm or agency. Put this content on the practice’s website and social media, making them easy to find. Let patients know where they can access this information. If you are comfortable with it, provide print and video in the office, including waiting rooms. Speak to patient’s personally to explain terminology. They will thank you for it.

Costs and Payment Frustration

As costs increase, patients become more concerned about how they will pay. Half of all adults have delayed or gone without certain medical care during the past year due to cost. Among those who have insurance, 25% say they have trouble paying their deductible.

To improve the chances that they will come to see the doctor for treatment, just give them the right information early in the process.

Over 60% of patients said that knowing their out-of-pocket expenses in advance of service impacts the likelihood of pursuing care, and almost half said having clear information on expected out-of-pocket costs before receiving treatment impacts their decision to use a healthcare provider.

Another way to retain patients and make them happier is to provide more options to pay their bills. Help them get low-cost or no-cost financing. Many don’t know it exists. Put them on a payment plan or direct them to companies that offer fair plans. And pay attention to digital options, especially for younger patients. If you don’t, the research says that your practice may lose many of them.

Half of all healthcare consumers say they are frustrated about their provider’s lack of adoption of digital administrative processes, such as online bill pay, access to insurance information, digital pre-appointment forms or mobile and email bill delivery. When you use digital, get it right because 1 in 5 patients already stopped or switched providers over a poor digital experience.

More payment options increases the likelihood that patients will pay their bills, which in turn eliminates the need for the provider’s revenue cycle team to get involved, reducing billing costs.

All these simple steps make it easier for patients who will thank you with their business and their loyalty.

Summary: Most patients are confused by their bills, payment options, and medical terminology. Many are worried about costs. You can improve your reviews, increase patient satisfaction, increase referrals, and improve collections by providing clear, easy, accessible ways both for patients to understand terminology and for them to pay bills conveniently, easily, and in the most financially favorable way.