Patients dread getting medical bills in the mail. Unless you work in healthcare, hospital bills can be confusing, vague or full of complex codes. A 2018 Consumer Reports survey found that two out of three insured adults with medical debt experienced at least one billing issue, such as bills arriving a couple of months after the visit.
Because it can be hard for some patients to discern what medical bills can mean or know what’s covered by their insurance, many patients simply give up trying to figure out their bills. More than a third of those surveyed by Consumer Reports said they paid bills they were unclear about, with nearly 20% paying more than $1,000. Why? Most respondents said they didn’t think their efforts to contest their bill would make a difference, or they worried that not paying it would hurt their credit.
With deductibles and out-of-pocket costs growing for patients, fewer can afford to pay their medical bills. Medical debt ranks as a leading cause of bankruptcy and a top concern for patients. Plus, up to 67% of patients fear receiving a surprise medical bill in the mail, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. For patients with serious health issues, a barrage of unexpected charges from hospitals, doctors and labs can be even more stressful.
So what can providers do to make billing more patient-friendly? Here are five places to start:
1. Lose the jargon. Bills should be written in clear, concise language that breaks down services and costs into straightforward terms that are easy for patients to understand. They should leave out unnecessary detail and include a clear call to action, so patients know exactly what they are supposed to do. They should also keep explanations of benefits as simple as possible to help patients understand what is and what isn’t covered by insurance.
2. Consolidate billing. Patients often receive several bills and benefit statements from providers and insurers before receiving the final bill listing their financial responsibility. This can cause some to overpay—or start ignoring bills altogether. Consolidating billing for all providers in a practice, hospital or health system into a single statement can give patients a more realistic and holistic view of what they owe across an organization and a greater sense of urgency about resolving those payments.
3. Educate patients upfront. Providers can avoid surprising patients with unexpected medical costs by doing a better job of helping them understand their patient responsibility before ever sending them a bill. This goes beyond just being more transparent with them about the total costs of specific procedures; it’s also about explaining which services may not be covered by their insurance plan and which physicians and facility locations are in network. Briefing new patients on credit and collection policies on the front end can also keep them from feeling blindsided later on.
4. Provide more empathetic support. If patients know they have advocates in your organization who are willing to go to bat for them and work with payers to resolve issues, they will be more likely to cooperate with you and resolve their outstanding balances.
5. Go digital. With most consumers going online to pay bills and shop, it’s no surprise that a growing number of patients of all ages say they would prefer to pay medical bills through a secure portal or website. Implementing a digital billing system can help patients keep better track of their medical bills and make payments on their computer or smartphone, 24/7. It also makes it easier to provide patients with additional payment options or plans that enable them to tackle their debt.