By Kylie Kaczor, RN, CASC, is the Vice President of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs and Michael Winkleman is the Vice President of Marketing at National Medical Billing Services
Telehealth, wearable health tracking devices, cloud-based services and a seemingly unending list of technological innovations dominate today’s headlines, and all areas of healthcare incorporate technology. Your ASC’s revenue cycle is no exception.
Consumers want convenient access to healthcare and a streamlined process, but they also want to have a good experience and “feel good” about their healthcare event. As a result, providers are looking for ways to implement new technologies that promise to promote accuracy and efficiency while positively impacting the patient experience.
Patient experience is not made up of one or two definitive components: it is a compilation of many processes and procedures. This leaves many ASCs pondering where to focus. Organizations that deliver a better patient experience also have better technical quality, better safety records and better engagement of data from their doctors, nurses and other employees, according to data collected by Press Ganey Associates, a South Bend, Indiana-based healthcare company that develops and distributes patient satisfaction surveys. This means all parts of patient experience matter. The best thing you could do to improve patient experience in your ASC is set short-term and long-term goals that influence patient experience via the technological and internal processes that affect it.
Let’s begin by focusing on best practices for two processes that can affect patient experience: financial counseling and how to use patient outcomes data.
One way to improve your patients’ experience is through financial counseling and the use of technology to accurately quote patient responsibility and determine patient eligibility.
The growth in high-deductible health plans has forced providers to change front-office practices. To help providers collect these higher patient responsibilities, many practices are implementing automated tools that can evaluate patient benefits and eligibility and produce accurate time-of-service quotes. There are numerous benefits to the patient experience when you implement automated tools focused on accurately calculating and collecting patient responsibility.
Having this information will better prepare front office staff and set proper expectations for the consumer. This type of technology implementation helps to streamline the time-of-service collections process while ensuring that patients arrive prepared with a full understanding of their responsibilities. These estimates also offer the providers and office staff the supportive and accurate information they need to discuss personal and customized financial responsibility with their patients, fostering a positive relationship between the provider and the consumer during financial counseling.
Automation of this type also can help reduce patient phone calls, improve patient satisfaction and decrease the administrative burden associated with collections. Often, these technologies are integrated with the practice management system or electronic health record (EHR), which eliminates inefficiencies and helps to reduce demographic and insurance capture errors, a common cause for claim rejection or denial.
A positive or negative experience related to the cost of care received and subsequent medical billing has an impact on the patient’s perception of care received because the billing process is often the first and the last interaction the patient has with an ASC. According to research from Fierce Healthcare, patient satisfaction ratings fall by an average of more than 30 percent from post-discharge through the billing process. If patients encounter significant issues with post-care billing, the satisfaction rating could fall even further, therefore, great attention needs to be paid to when and how you are collecting patient responsibility.
Being thorough in your collection process at time of service will allow patients to focus solely on their recovery after care without facing continued financial burden. In addition, if you explain all of your patients’ financial responsibility up front and provide an accurate quote to your patients at time of service and they make an educated decision to move forward with services, that is often a strong indicator that they understand their role and are comfortable with their financial responsibility.
The next step is taking practical action to make payments easy for patients to make and providing clear information about how to do so. Payment options and benefits might include:
• recurring payment plans with limitations on the length of these plans and minimum required payments that are separated into manageable and controlled amounts allowed for large patient balances;
• adding a required promissory note that the patient must sign to increase the patient’s perception of accountability and the consequences of not complying with the plan;
• allowing patients to pay using all forms of major credit cards or Automatic Clearinghouse (ACH) payments to offer more flexibility to patients; and
• allowing medical loans through organizations like Care Credit as an additional payment option so patients don’t face financial hardship, which could lead to adjusting off a portion or the entire patient balance.
The final and most often overlooked part of the process is staff training. Implementing an internal process that allows the best use of technology and provides for the education of patients about the payment options available to them requires a well-trained staff.
Marketing Patient Outcomes
It is no secret that healthcare is shifting away from the traditional fee-for-service model and focusing more on the quality of care provided. Value-based care models are on the rise and are expected to continue with many federal initiatives underway that are aimed at improving patient outcomes. Outcomes tracking has historically been limited to benchmarking items like number of postoperative infections or number of hospital transfers. Newer value-based models, including the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), Alternative Payment Models (APM) and Blue Distinction Centers, focus heavily on the quality of care provided and patient outcomes after care.
The most advanced patient outcomes tracking systems available engage the patient every step of the way, providing real-time updates of current status and, most often, offering comparative scoring of the patient’s self-evaluation before and after intervention. These systems are typically integrated with facility software and are easily accessible for both the patient and the provider. The information gathered is most typically based on scientific research to ensure the quality of the data collected. As a result of this industry shift, there is a great opportunity to implement technologies that help you accurately track patient outcomes and report this data in the form of marketing to payers, referring physicians and the public.
Outcomes data could be used to market your services to commercial payers. When negotiating contracts, you may be able to present your outcomes data to secure appropriate rates from your in-network payers. This information can be presented in the form of visual graphs, sales sheets, PowerPoint slides or images that can be shown to the payer during negotiations.
Many ASCs rely on referrals from physicians and other partner facilities. Therefore, it is important that patients receive accurate information about your facility and referring physicians and partners kept abreast of both outcomes data and positive patient experience testimonials.
A referring physician can influence the beginning of your patient’s experience, so the better educated the referring physician is about your facility and its outcomes, capabilities and successes, the more positively your patient will view your ASC from the start. Marketing efforts to retain referring physicians should be part of your internal process. Outcomes data is meaningful and helpful information that makes it easier for physicians to refer to your ASC.
This information can be distributed in the form of visual graphs, information cards, PowerPoint slides or images similar to those shown to payers, but with patient testimonials included. They can be printed and hand-delivered or emailed if a list exists.
We already know that patients are becoming increasingly educated about their healthcare choices, and with the most recent executive order on price transparency, we can only expect that patients will begin looking for the highest quality of care at the lowest prices. Having this outcomes data readily accessible will allow you to market your outcomes scores, along with pricing, to consumers in your region.
Outcomes data can be combined with patient testimonials and, then, distributed to patients and potential patients in a variety of ways including website content, social media posts, digital and traditional ads, downloadable resources and YouTube video content. Additionally, facilities should consider encouraging patients to provide online reviews. In combination with the promotion of outcomes data and patient testimonials, you could inspire confidence in the care your ASC provides before patients even enter the doors of your facility.
Technology, Reimbursement and Marketing Strategies
Using innovative technologies that help streamline your reimbursement process via financial counseling could have a positive effect on the patient experience in your facility and patient outcomes. Using effective marketing strategies to educate patients before their procedures and promoting your outcomes data can help inspire confidence in your facility.
It is one thing to market that you are a less expensive option for patients, it is another to show that patients can receive higher quality care in your lower-cost setting.