How to Communicate Clearly with Patients About Healthcare Costs

AUGUST 07, 2019
Nate Brogan
Paying medical bills can be a frustrating process. For many patients, confusing healthcare bills, uncertainty about what insurance covers and too little cost transparency cause headaches and financial hardship. Of course, payment issues don’t only impact patients—healthcare providers and practices also suffer when patients struggle to pay their bills. 

According to a pair of Intrado surveys, 41% of patients think billing issues are an area where healthcare performs less efficiently than other industries. The surveys, which captured responses from 1,036 adults and 317 healthcare providers in the U.S., also revealed that healthcare providers believe that because healthcare bills are more confusing (61%) and less predictable (44%) than other bills, healthcare provides less efficient service than other industries.practice management healthcare costs billing patients payment communication

Healthcare teams can take steps to combat billing and payment challenges by making improvements to how they communicate with patients about healthcare costs. Those providers who work to communicate more clearly about costs and billing may be able to minimize patients’ financial frustrations, improve healthcare experiences and protect revenue. Here are three ways healthcare providers can proactively communicate with patients about financial responsibilities and healthcare billing:

1. Communicate about costs early and often

Patients want healthcare billing to be transparent and easy to understand. However, while many physicians say they believe communicating with patients about healthcare costs should be a priority, in practice that communication doesn’t always happen. Intrado’s survey found that nine in ten healthcare providers say that helping patients understand what is covered by insurance vs. what they owe out of pocket is very or extremely important. And, even more providers (96%) firmly believe it is important that they provide patients with an easy way to understand and pay for medical bills. Unfortunately, this valuable communication isn’t happening nearly as often as it should. Close to half of patients (45%) say providers either do not help them understand what they owe out of pocket and what is covered by insurance, or they do a poor to fair job of communicating this information. Overall, patients suggest that more proactive communication about healthcare costs is needed.

Many opportunities exist to increase and improve communication regarding healthcare costs. Most healthcare organizations already have patient engagement technology in place that they use to send automated appointment reminders. This same technology can be used to communicate with patients about costs and financial obligations. Providers can initiate the cost discussion early and prepare patients for potential copayments with an automated text, email or voice message like this example:

This message is to remind you of your appointment with Dr. Taylor tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. Please bring your insurance card with you. If your insurance requires a copay, please come with a form of payment. Your appointment is categorized as a “specialist” visit if you want to confirm the amount of your copay in advance. If you have questions or need to reschedule your appointment, please call our office at 800-644-4266.

Not only does this type of message help remind patients about their appointments, but it also encourages them to plan for copayments and it opens the door to further dialogue about costs. Following this initial message, providers can continue to send messages after appointments and before payment deadlines to clarify financial obligations and prompt patients to make payments. For example, healthcare teams may want to follow up with patients after appointments by sending automated messages to share pre-billing statements that include estimates of out-of-pocket expenses. Or, they can proactively send communications that clarify costs ahead of payment deadlines. By communicating early and often, healthcare teams can help patients understand and prepare for their financial obligations.

2. Communicate about payment options

According to Intrado’s survey, 94% of patients say that it is important for providers to give them an easy way to understand and pay for medical bills. Providers can clarify costs and communicate payment options by using their patient engagement technology to send messages to patients. For example, after bills have been sent to patients, healthcare teams can follow up with automated messages before payment deadlines. Teams may want to send messages similar to this example:

This is a friendly reminder that you have a payment of $120.44 due in 10 business days. Insurance has already been applied. You can view and pay your bill by clicking on the link below and logging into your patient portal. If you have questions about your bill, want to discuss payment options or prefer to pay by phone, please call us at 800-644-4266 to speak with a billing specialist.

According to one study, 74% of patients who reported having satisfactory billing experiences paid their healthcare bills in full, while only 33% of those dissatisfied with healthcare billing paid their bills. Sending messages that explain bills and provide patients with easy-to-understand payment options can help drive payments.

3. Communicate in ways that are convenient for patients

To ensure that messages are effective, it is important to communicate with patients in ways that are convenient for them. Snail mail and phone calls have always been an option, but patients’ preferences for digital communication has grown. Intrado’s survey revealed that patients are twice as likely as they were in 2011 to choose text messages as their most preferred way to communicate with providers.

Many Americans can easily receive text messages from providers on their mobile phones, smartwatches, and other devices. By sending text messages that include links patients can follow to make a payment on their phone, tablet, smartwatch or other device adds convenience to the payment process and improves the patient experience. According to Intrado’s survey, more than half of the patients (52%) wish they could pay medical bills by opening a link in a text message.

More and better communication from healthcare providers makes it easier for patients to understand address their financial responsibilities. Healthcare teams can use automated messages to proactively communicate with patients about their financial obligations and provide easy-to-use payment methods. Healthcare teams simply need to expand their use of existing patient engagement technology. By doing so, they can easily reach patients through their preferred communication channels and send messages that provide information about costs and communicate payment options.



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About the Author
Nate Brogan is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans—and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Brogan currently serves as President of Notification Services at Intrado, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when and how healthcare is delivered.

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