customer story

How Atrium Health Bolstered Patient Satisfaction While Reducing Bad Debt

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While two out of five consumers would switch providers to access more affordable payment options, options to self-enroll in payment plans—whether through a patient portal or via a mobile device—are still a new concept for health systems. It’s an approach Atrium Health, a large, integrated healthcare delivery system based in Charlotte, N.C, and extending into Georgia and Alabama, began to explore in 2017, as high-deductible health plans began to proliferate and bad debt started to rise.

Today, all patients at Atrium Health qualify for patient financing, regardless of their past payment history, in- come or credit level. With the addition of digital payment options—including online account management via MyChart—flexible and affordable payment options support a better patient financial experience while strengthening the health system’s bottom line.

the problem

In 2017, out-of-pocket costs of care were rising, with a 14% increase from 2017 to 2018 alone. Meanwhile, the sharp rise in high-deductible health plans— with deductibles as high as $6,550 for individuals and $13,100 for families annually—meant many patients could no longer afford to pay their medical bills without some form of financial assistance or payment plan.

Atrium Health sought a solution that would remove cost and financial anxiety as barriers to accessing medical care and services while protecting the organization’s financial health. The health system also wanted a solution that would heighten transparency for consumers and elevate the patient financial experience, the final step in the care journey.

the solution

Atrium Health worked with AccessOne to develop a solution that would provide patient financing options to all patients, no matter their account balance or credit history.

Historically, Atrium had operated its own internal program for patients who needed financing plans of six months or less, working with AccessOne for all other cases. However, amid a systemwide Epic installation that began in 2015, Atrium used the opportunity to reevaluate whether this was the right approach. The health system brought together AccessOne as well as its business process outsourcing partner and patient billing services partner to develop a custom solution.

Leaders for these organizations worked together to consolidate benefits verification, billing functions, payment plan processes, and even patient billing services, giving staff streamlined access to the data they need while supporting a cohesive, highly patient-centric experience. They also reassessed Atrium’s payment plan offerings and sought to simplify the health system’s payment plan approach while providing greater flexibility and continuity for patients.

Ultimately, Atrium determined that an internal payment plan program no longer met its needs. Instead, the health system worked with AccessOne to offer payment plans for all patients in need of flexible payment options. Atrium also partnered with AccessOne to offer a financial assistance program called Choice Outreach, which provides supplemental assistance for low-income patients whose care has not been covered in full through government funding. These efforts help cover the cost of care for this high-needs population.

By combining this approach with efforts to supercharge patient financial communications by increasing pre-service discussions around out-of-pocket costs of care, the number of patients participating in a payment plan rose 52% in one year. Bad debt decreased 8%, and customer service response times decreased 67%.

Then, in 2019, Atrium Health took the next step in its journey to elevate patient payment by investing in digital-first options for requesting estimates of out-of-pocket costs, with the ability to connect with live support, when needed. To support this feature, Atrium Health created new scripting for patient financial services staff to guide them through scenarios frequently encountered in a high-deductible environment.

Patient financing meets MyChart.

In January 2021, Atrium Health became an early adopter of a feature in MyChart that not only gives patients the ability to self-enroll in patient financing, but also allows them to understand the low-interest and no-interest payment options available. Options such as this enable patients to pay with dignity, no matter their situation, by providing them the tools they need to self-manage their accounts from the comfort and privacy of home.

“By investing in a variety of options for patient payment, we’ve helped relieve the financial stress of care for the communities we serve while protecting our ability to meet our mission. We’re grateful to AccessOne for a partnership that delivers financial care with compassion while generating revenue.”
– Chris Johnson | Vice President, Revenue Cycle Management for Atrium Health

the result

The results have been outstanding. Today, Atrium Health boasts a 12-month recourse rate for funded accounts of just 2.2%—among the best in the industry—with 70% of accounts funded by the health system. Calls to customer service have dramatically decreased, and patient financial satisfaction is strong.

By integrating the ability to apply for financial assistance and enroll in patient financing plans directly through Atrium Health’s MyChart portal, 14,644 unique users applied for a payment plan for the first time in 2021. As three out of 10 patients shifted to a self-service model for patient financing, Atrium Health saved 102 FTE hours during the first year of implementation.

Even as the percentage of patients requesting interest-free financing increased 44% from 2020
to 2021, the proportion of patients who pay their accounts in full is high—70%—despite the financial impact of the pandemic.