talking to patients about finances

How Doctors Feel About Talking to Patients about Finances

Today, healthcare organizations must be certain not only that their physicians, clinicians, and front-facing employees are technically competent, but also that they have the soft skills to interact professionally, compassionately, and competently about issues related to patients’ healthcare coverage and out-of-pocket expense.

We recently interviewed Katie Gilfillan, Director, Healthcare Finance Policy, Physician and Clinical Practice for the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), about ways that doctors and other providers can work to improve communication about finances with patients. “The most successful healthcare providers and payers are those that spend time and resources on patient financial communications training and coaching,” Gilfillan says. “In many ways, interactions related to a patient’s financial responsibility for care or service can be just as intense as clinical encounters. The most outstanding patient experience in a clinical setting can be quickly negated by an unpleasant experience with a member of the organization’s billing staff.”

Where to Start Improving Communication about Patient Finances

The best place to start establishing a solid foundation for patient financial communications is to ensure all parties are speaking the same language—for example, by knowing the difference between cost, charge, and price and by being able to clearly explain terms such as deductible, copay, and in-network, Gilfillan says.

Health plans should serve as the definitive information source for patients around out-of-pocket responsibility. As such, they should provide easy-to-use tools for consumers to obtain a list of in-network providers, estimate the cost of care or service, and determine out-of-pocket responsibility. Hospitals’ responsibilities include:

  • Clearly communicating the estimated cost for a given procedure prior to the point of service
  • Detailing which services are included in the estimate
  • Making it clear how complications during a procedure or course of treatment could impact the patient’s out-of-pocket expense

Physicians and clinicians also play an integral role in patient financial communications, starting with helping patients and their families make informed decisions about their treatment plans. When financial concerns are raised by patients, it is the responsibility of the physician to explore these concerns further and work with the patient and family to address them. Physicians also should continually consider less expensive forms of treatment and long-term solutions for reducing costs of care.

More Suggestions for Improving Patient Financial Communications

How can your organization most effectively communicate with patients who have high deductibles? HFMA has developed best practices for patient financial communications, across all care areas and in specific settings, such as the emergency department. A sample of best practices includes:

  • Initiate the conversation early in the patient encounter. Where appropriate, utilize face-to-face discussions to facilitate one-time resolution.
  • Provide standard language to guide staff on the most common types of patient financial discussions.
  • Reinforce verbal discussions with written information.
  • Respect the patient’s privacy by holding such communications in a location and manner that are sensitive to the patient’s needs.
  • Focus on steps toward amicable resolution of patients’ financial obligations.
  • Ensure that passion, patient advocacy, and education are components of all patient financial communications.

This blog post is taken from an article in the Q1 2017 issue of PX Advisor. Complete the form below to download the issue.

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