As healthcare consumers become increasingly aware of the rising cost of treatment, the phrase “So, what’s it gonna cost me?” likely will take over the patient-provider conversation. Thanks in part to the Internet, individuals have more access than ever to information regarding treatment plans and average costs. Before a patient even walks into your practice, there’s a good chance he or she already has a perceived value of your services. So, throwing financial transparency to the wind could negatively impact patient satisfaction in a huge way—and that ultimately affects your bottom line. With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into the facets of financial transparency.
First, let’s talk cost—and what that really entails—for physical therapy and healthcare services in general. According to this HFMA report, “To the patient, cost is the amount payable out of pocket for healthcare services, which may include deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, amounts payable by the patient for services that are not included in the patient’s benefit design, and amounts ‘balance billed’ by out-of-network providers.” And the amount a patient is willing to pay depends on his or her individual preferences, financial situation, and priorities.
When it comes to personal priorities, every patient’s situation is different; cost and perceived value is a complex issue. That’s why transparency is fast becoming a crucial driver of healthcare consumerism. When you provide your patients with detailed financial information upfront, they’re able to make better-informed decisions about their care. Plus, they feel empowered to actually make those decisions—and in choosing to obtain care, they are truly buying into that care, both literally and figuratively. In turn, they become more engaged with your practice. As this PatientCo article highlights, “While providers have spent a great deal of time finding new ways to clinically engage patients in an effort to drive better cost and quality outcomes, few have considered the potential benefits of engaging patients financially.”
Timing is, well, everything. Providing financial transparency requires much more than simply mailing a bill for services provided. Patients expect clear communication upfront, along with a high level of customer service. Before you provide services to a particular patient, your front office staff should verify his or her benefits and inform him or her of any associated financial responsibility—whether that’s a copay, deductible, or coinsurance. As this HealthcareITNews survey found, “Just about all patients (95 percent) say it’s important to know the total cost of a medical procedure upfront, according to the national survey of 407 patients who used CarePayment payment programs. Nearly everyone (96 percent) also wants to understand their payment options before receiving medical care, the survey found.”
Providing your patients with this information before they come in for treatment allows you the opportunity to guide them through understanding the scope of treatment. “Today, if you can't provide this information upfront, you run the risk of losing patients to competitors who can provide accurate prices estimates,” explains this Advisory Board article. So, if you don’t offer accurate information upfront in the interest of engaging your patients, then you should at least consider doing so to benefit your business.
As I mentioned before, financial transparency isn’t about simply sending out bills. It requires a proactive approach and a significant amount of effort. But, as healthcare consumers become better educated about the true cost of their treatment—and more empowered to align their healthcare choices with their personal financial priorities—your practice should consider fostering this type of engagement from the get-go.