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It Pays to See the Revenue Cycle Through Your Patients' Eyes
By April Wilson

If you've never seen a "perspective sculpture" in person, you've probably run across a few online. One of the most famous is dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

From one angle, the sculpture looks like a random gathering of misshapen steel columns. But if you move just slightly, an image emerges of one of the most famous figures in modern history. The sculpture was created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mandela's arrest by the apartheid police.

Perspective is also key in the health care revenue cycle.

From one angle, you'll see a mass of disjointed payments, frustrated patients, and mounting bad debt. With a small shift toward a perspective that centers on patients, an entirely different picture emerges—one that shows simplified payments and a new level of financial engagement.

The following are four tips to smoothing the payment process:

• Start predicting. You might feel like you have deep insight into your patients' payment behaviors right now, but you have more to work with than you think. Each of your patients has a payment history that is rich in information, including how likely they are to pay, how they prefer making payments, and how consistently they settle their bills.

Predictive models can help you evaluate their propensity to pay, assign a score, and establish a starting point for any communications and discussions. Scoring allows you to create order out of the complexity of your patients' preferences, behaviors, and predicted outcomes. Ideally, you will want to turn all that into analytics-based, targeted payment pathways and an intelligent communication plan that promotes patient payment awareness and increases cash flows.

• Tailor communications. It might seem like the entire world relies on their smartphones in every aspect of their lives, but if you take a few steps to shift your perspective on your patients, you'll find something interesting.

Some of your patients are highly responsive to receiving paper bills; others are moved by electronic statements via e-mail, and a few might be more likely to act on text message reminders. These traits can vary by age, location, and even educational level.

Notice that we aren't talking about what methods of communication they prefer. Truly aligning with your patients' perspectives means paying attention to their behavior. Predictive analytics algorithms can be especially useful in optimizing medium, message, and overall communication strategies for each patient.

• Throw time out the window. Your patients live in a world where, if they wanted to book a flight to see that sculpture of Nelson Mandela at 2 AM, there would be little stopping them from rolling over in bed and doing just that.

If they wanted to pay their latest statement for the knee replacement they had last year at your facility, would they have the same flexibility?

Hospitals have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars in returns just by expanding payment options to include mobile and online payment portal methods, and that's on top of a boost to patient satisfaction. This is because convenience matters. Shift your viewpoint on patient payment to focus on convenience and you'll be looking at a new world of revenue cycle results.

• Leverage technology. We've mentioned technology already, and mostly on the patient-facing side. But there are also back-end solutions that help keep payment experiences centered on the patient. One of the most effective tools is a merchant-service agreement.

Merchant services are more of a collection of technologies than a standalone solution. A comprehensive merchant-services strategy includes card readers, patient portals, check processing, and cloud-based reconciliation. When these elements play together, hospitals see higher cost transparency, streamlined reconciliation, and a payment experience patients prefer.

The age of health care consumerization has arrived, and heightened patient expectations have come along with it. If you haven't started shifting your perspective on patient payments, now is a great time to start.

— April Wilson is vice president of marketing and analytics for RevSpring (www.revspringinc.com), a company that provides patient engagement and billing solutions for health care providers.