How one hospital system transformed patient collections, improved satisfaction

The overall patient experience doesn't end after hospital discharge. In fact, satisfaction is tied to how hospitals address the collection of deductibles and copayments. But billing is an often overlooked component of the healthcare consumer's experience.

Memorial Hermann, an integrated nonprofit health system with 12 hospitals, a large ambulatory care network and physician network that serves millions of patients in the Greater Houston area, set out to change that and this year launched a new "Amazon-like" digital platform to simplify the way patients can pay medical bills.

"It's hard enough to go through the healthcare experience. To make it more stressful with patients dissatisfied with the billing operations is a tragedy," Dennis Laraway, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Memorial Hermann, told FierceHealthFinance in an exclusive interview.

Laraway, pictured right, said it's often difficult for patients to determine what they owe, since they are bombarded with different billing statements from the hospital and various providers.

The organization already had a digital engagement platform for virtual patient scheduling across the system, so it made sense to develop a similar experience for the consumer billing process, he said. The system's goal was to give patients a bill that was easy to understand as well as the power to pay with a click of a button on a mobile device, tablet or computer.

The integrated offering, the first of its kind in Texas, provides patients with clear explanations of their financial responsibility in an interactive format, a flexible checkout process with payment plan options and the ability to access the information across multiple platforms.

The electronic, interactive bills break down the services rendered, what insurance will pay and the amount the patient needs to pay. The bills clearly state the date of service, the patient, physician and clinic.To make it even more patient-friendly, the platform technology will automatically adjust the bill to the size of the device so patients can easily read the statements on a phone, tablet or computer.

The platform, supported by Simplee, also allows patients to choose no-interest payment plans so consumers can decide the date of the month they'll pay over the course of the year and synchronize the timing of payments with their paychecks, according to Laraway.

Although the system has only been in place for a few months, Laraway says the preliminary findings are encouraging. Since its launch, the health system has seen an immediate improvement in self-service payments by 53 percent, reduced collection costs by 23 percent and an 83 percent patient satisfaction rate based on their most recent payment experience.

"We've seen a dramatic difference in increased collections and an increased level of self-serve payment arrangements that patients can make without the added phone calls to the billing department, credit or collection agencies," he said.

The self-payment options takes pressure off billing operations and revenue cycle staff and has reduced vendor costs Laraway said. Eventually it may also mean reducing staff. "Clearly this is an opportunity to end the cost curve favorably and avoid vendor services and agency collections and put the power in the consumer's hands," he said.

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