Texas Health Resources (THR) uses taped interactions between patient and staff to improve customer service and improve collections. The 24-hospital not-for-profit and faith-based system, which predominates in the Dallas/Forth Worth area, has been taping and scrutinizing telephone interactions for more than a dozen years, according to Patti Consolver, a THR senior director of patient access.
"With every great phone call, we find three or four things that can be done differently," Consolver told an audience at last week's Healthcare Financial Management Association Annual National Institute in Orlando, Florida. As a result, scripts for patient interaction have been revised, and employees coached on improving their performance.
One beloved employee since 1966, known as "Miss Bobbie," had had only middling patient satisfaction scores. When she reviewed her tapes, she broke down crying, but improved her telephone demeanor, according to Scott Phillips, another THR patient access senior director.
As a result, THR has been able to greatly boost its patient satisfaction scores, as measured by the firm Press Ganey. Employees are given an "applause"--usually a gift card--for good performance, according to Consolver.
But the system also has been able to hone in on upfront payment collections. THR provides cost estimates in advance, and tries to collect 50 percent prior to a procedure. A recording of a female patient scheduled for a procedure last January showed that after being told she would owe nearly $5,700, the customer representative cut the bill to less than $4,000 after taking into account imaging services and an ambulance ride she had either paid for or was in the process of being billed for. The patient seemed to reflect a growing demographic of those with health insurance but still encountering significant bills for care. According to Consolver, the patient paid 50 percent of what she owed when she checked in for her procedure the next day.
Perhaps cognizant of this trend, providers such as Ochsner Cancer Institute in Louisiana are offering financial assistance to patients who have mesothelioma, asbestos.com has reported. And while hospitals have had a hard time providing specific benefits to the communities they serve, MedPage Today has reported that many do concentrate their efforts in providing financial assistance to their patients.
Whether or not pressing for upfront payments in this manner will stay in place much longer remains to be seen. The U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service issued new rules late last year that compel not-for-profit hospitals to make a "reasonable effort" to offer patient financial assistance upfront, although hospitals have asked for a walkback of some of those rules.