Anatomy of a Patient Friendly Bill

Practical Lessons in Success from Seattle's Northwest Hospital & Medical Center

“Patients need clear, understandable statements...sent out in a timely fashion. It has made a huge difference for us.”

To hear Janet Walthew discuss the topic, it seems so simple. You see, Walthew is the Director of Patient Financial Services at Seattle’s Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, an organization that has successfully transitioned to a patient-friendly billing model. Walthew and Revenue Cycle Senior Director, Mike Smith, led Northwest Hospital’s shift from an approach focused on major payers to a system keenly in tune with today’s patient-consumers.

So—just what did Walthew, Smith and the Northwest Hospital team do? They leveraged industry best-practices, consulted patients and found a new billing partner in order to create clear and concise financial communications.

Keeping the patient-friendly billing standards outlined by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) in mind, the hospital designed several sample statements and surveyed patients to better understand which format most clearly communicated the information. Based on their input, the statement format was finalized.

The next step for Northwest Hospital was to find a partner who could implement its customized patient statement. This was not an easy task.

In the past, patient statements were relatively easy to produce since most of the information was pulled directly from one data file. To present the information in a more patient-friendly manner, the new statement required complex information processing – pulling data from six files and summarizing the content as needed. After contacting eight companies about printing and mailing the new statements, only Emdeon was able to comply with the requested design and manage the complex web of reporting required to generate the patient statements.

When the new statement was introduced, Northwest Hospital helped current account holders understand their new bill by providing a patient statement guide. This reference tool included an image of a sample statement with call-outs to identify the most important pieces of information on statements.

Since Northwest Hospital implemented a more succinct, plainly stated and well-designed patient statement, the hospital has enjoyed improved receivables, reduced volumes of patient inquiries—and a much healthier revenue cycle all around.

Below includes a list of the patient statement best-practices that Northwest Hospital implemented in order to become a patient friendly billing institution. How does your current statement compare?

a. Use unique fonts, color and capitalization for section headers.
On Northwest Hospital’s past statement layout, it was hard to quickly find information since section headers were the same font size as variable data. Northwest Hospital’s new statement features headers in a green font nearly two times larger than the black variable text. This helps patients visually categorize information and follow content easily.

b. Organize content in a logical order.
A glance at Northwest Hospital’s past bill could be overwhelming, as it contained minimal financial summaries and presented the information in a letter format. In contrast, the new layout eases customers into the details – beginning with basic account identifiers, to a summary of charges, then a detailed listing of itemized charges, ending with the patient’s outstanding balance.

c. Communicate that the insurance claim has been processed.
This clearly communicates that the insurance company has successfully processed the claim and the amount due listed on the statement is truly the patient’s responsibility to now pay.

d. Provide a summary of services and a subtotal of charges.
Northwest Hospital’s new bill includes a “Patient Services Provided” section on the left side of the statement that provides a general summary of charges such as “Pharmacy” and “Room Charges” along with subtotals for each.

e. Separate more detailed information from overview sections.
Northwest Hospital created a separate “Account Information” section located on the right side of the statement that provides more specific information. This section starts with the top-line charges (total from “Patient Services Provided”) minus insurance and patient payments previously applied. Finally, the remaining patient balance is listed.

f. Visually call out the amount you are requesting the patient to pay.
Northwest Hospital’s bill makes the “amount due” hard to miss. The bottom portion of the bill is green with a white call-out box reserved for this all-important total.

g. Use a call to action when highlighting the amount to be paid.
Previously, Northwest Hospital’s patient bill stated “Total Amount Due”. While accurate, this does not give instruction to patients about what to do with this information. On Northwest Hospital’s new bill, “Please Pay This Amount” clearly communicates what patients need to do.

h. Include a “Contact Us” section.
Clearly communicate all of the options available (by phone, by email, online, etc.) and provide your customer service hours of operation.

i. Give simple, quick alternatives to pay.
Northwest Hospital added a credit card payment form at the top of the patient statement that is pre-populated with customer information. Patients only need to add their credit card information and mail the payment stub to complete the transaction.

Pay-by-phone and internet based payment options with directions were also added to the patient statement to encourage the use of automated payment collection.

Emdeon is the leading provider of integrated Patient Billing & Payment Solutions that help healthcare professionals, like Smith and Walthew at Northwest Hospital, optimize their cash flow management while reducing administrative costs. To learn more about Emdeon ExpressBill Services and the entire suite of integrated patient billing and payment solutions call 877.EMDEON.6 (877.363.3666) or visit us online.

Bookmark and Share

Read More>>