Patient Financial Communications: Best Practices for Providers

Financial conversations tend to get thorny. Even more so when they concern delicate matters such as healthcare.

Patients have many questions, such as what their insurance covers, who is responsible for costs, what options they have for paying—even how to pay. 

As a provider, you hold the answers patients need. In any case, you must provide them if you want to offer a world-class patient experience.

Those answers should come across in clear, consistent patient communications. 

At the end of the day, the better you communicate with patients, the more they’ll trust you. And that’s the key for their and your success.

Understanding Patient Concerns

The obvious fact is that patients want to know exactly how much their healthcare will cost. The thing is, it’s a minefield of financial confusion: health insurance, covered services, copay, deductibles, and so many subtle complexities.  

Patient concerns mainly involve: 

  • Who is responsible for payment.
  • What their insurance covers.
  • What their patient payment options are (if any) for managing their medical bills.

According to a recent survey by Bend Financial, more than half of healthcare consumers don’t even fully understand how health insurance works in general, let alone their own insurance.

Not knowing beforehand how much they will have to pay, leads to patients getting stressed out about “surprise” medical bills. This makes sense when you see that another recent survey reported that about 7 in 10 people had received a medical bill they could not afford. 

All this confusion leads to patients having to deal with added anxiety about receiving care. As if feeling ill or needing a service or procedure weren’t uncomfortable enough, patients are overwhelmed by an unknown (high) cost

And many times, they have no way of paying for it. Patients are not only blindsided by a high medical bill, but they many times don’t have financing options to confidently pay for the bill. 

Healthcare can alleviate a whole lot of this stress just by providing effective patient communications.

6 Best Practices to Improve Patient Financial Communications 

Providing guidance and clarity for patients is an effective way for providers to both improve their bottom line and elevate the overall patient experience.

Here are patient communications best practices to incorporate for a better patient financial experience. 

1) Focus on Clear Communications

Providers should strive to be as clear as possible with patients and simplify information—especially when it comes to the “fine print.” 

Consider using charts or infographics that explain payment responsibility, in lieu of overwhelming (and confusing) text.

Transparency at every step of the patient payment journey is essential. This includes aspects like billing, potential costs, payment options, cost estimates, and even uncertainties along the way.

Patients will feel confident in pursuing care if they know what to expect when it comes to payment. Discussing payment up front helps build patient confidence and prevents negative feelings from unexpected expenses. 

2) Prioritize Empathy and Trust

Empathy and compassion are an absolute must in patient communications.

Based on prior experiences, and the situation itself, patients may be predisposed to anxiety and stress regarding their patient payments. Allow patients to share their feelings or voice their concerns without judgment or reaction.

Acknowledge patient concerns, make them feel comfortable. 

Something like  “I understand. Let’s see if we can explore some additional options,” can build trust and a healthy relationship with patients from the start. Above all, emphasize that you are invested in the patient’s well-being, from care to payment. 

3) Keep Facts at the Forefront

Financial conversations are most effective when they’re based on up-to-date information. Having a patient’s current insurance details at hand demonstrates that you are there for them, and also prevents misunderstandings. 

Instead of allowing patients to go blindly into a procedure without knowing the costs, set realistic expectations: “I see you have met half of your deductible. That means you could owe the full rate before your insurance covers any care. Your out-of-pocket cost will be $225.”

Now, the patient can prepare for the medical bill and feel empowered as they better understand their financial responsibility, before even receiving care. This brings them calm, instead of fear or anxiety about the potential financial impact. 

4) Avoid Medical Billing Jargon

Remember that your patients are not well-versed in medical billing and insurance terminology. Not only that, but patients may be hesitant to ask for clarity and feel intimidated by their lack of understanding.

Common acronyms like “EOB,” “in-network,” or “co-insurance” may not be precise enough. 

Instead, speak plainly and say, “Your insurance company will mail you the explanation of benefits, which lists every service and charge, what your insurance pays, and any leftover amount you must pay. Does that make sense?” 

Even if it takes a few more words, explain clearly to your patients what something like “copay” means. Then, make sure that they understand—it’s important that they are aware of their responsibilities, and that they can take them on confidently.

5) Provide Additional Resources 

Having conversations about healthcare finances is only the first step.

Ensure that your patients understand that the conversation does not begin and end in one interaction. Offer additional resources like information on payment plans, explanations for any current balances, lists of providers for services, procedures, or treatment plans they could need. 

Brochures, presentations, and any other visual representation helps.

Create an open-door policy where patients feel comfortable calling to get additional clarity or help. You can also consider adding signage or literature about payment plans within your practice, so patients are repeatedly reminded that your practice is there to help them understand their payment obligations. 

6) Leverage Patient-Centric Technology

Having easy-to-use technology that supports your patient financial communications is a game changer for the patient experience—and your bottom line. 

With the right technology, patients don’t need to wait for billing details via the mail. Instead, platforms like AccessOne’s MobilePay offer a streamlined way to deliver billing information directly to patients via SMS. 

Not only do patients get accurate, real-time billing information, but they can make a patient payment without even having to log in to a portal or an app. 

When providers properly discuss finances, and then deliver a statement that aligns with their patient financial communications, payment rates soar. One of our surveys from 2021 revealed that when consumers receive payment notifications through their preferred digital channels, about half will pay through that channel in less than one hour. 

The Communications That Patients Deserve 

Don’t shy away from talking about finances with your patients. Rather, make it a point to proactively have those conversations to reassure patients and to give them confidence.

Armed with these tips and the latest technology to support your efforts, your patient experience will be one people will talk about—with only good things to say. 

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