This week marks Patient Experience Week, an annual event to celebrate healthcare professionals whose work impacts patient experience every day. 

Patient experience has become a buzzword in healthcare, but what exactly does it mean? According to the Beryl Institute, patient experience represents “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.” From scheduling an appointment to seeing a provider to filling a prescription, each step of the patient’s care journey matters.

But it’s not just about clinical experience. To a growing extent, patients consider financial experience to be a key factor in their overall satisfaction with a provider. In a recent survey, 90% of respondents said a good patient financial experience is critical when they decide whether to see a provider again.

The same survey found that creating positive patient financial experiences has a ripple effect. 57% of patients said they would recommend a provider to friends and family if they had a positive financial experience. Conversely, they would leave a bad online review if they got a surprise medical bill or had another type of negative financial experience. 

In the era of healthcare consumerism, providers cannot afford to ignore these trends. With the rise of high-deductible health plans, soaring premiums, and increased out-of-pocket expenses, patients now shoulder greater financial responsibility than ever. Consequently, they’re becoming informed shoppers whose loyalty impacts providers’ bottom line.

Here’s how healthcare organizations can create positive financial experiences at every stage of the medical journey:

1. Transparency – Be Clear About Costs.

The Challenge: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’s) hospital price transparency rule went into effect at the start of 2021. However, implementation has been challenging for many health systems, due to the tremendous investment of time and resources required to achieve full compliance. 

Patients are suffering the consequences. In the above-mentioned survey, 58% of respondents said that they tried to obtain an out-of-pocket cost estimate for their care. Of those patients, 40% said the information was difficult to find. 

Additional research revealed that most patients were not even aware that providers must disclose costs—and only found out the price of services after receiving them.

The Opportunity: Hospitals and health systems should leverage technology to reduce the manual work needed to comply with price transparency requirements. Price estimator tools meet CMS requirements if they are internet-based, offer estimates for at least 300 shoppable services, and are prominently displayed on the hospital’s website. 

Many large health systems have already implemented these tools, which typically allow patients to search for a service (for example, an MRI scan) and receive cost estimates in real time—based on their insurance information (if applicable), service location, and other relevant details. This technology should be complemented by other strategies to improve financial experience, such as having dedicated staff to answer calls related to price estimates. 

2. Communication – Start Conversations at the Point of Care.

The Challenge: Just as patients value a provider who communicates early and often about their medical care, they expect the same level of communication about their costs of care. One study found that more than a quarter of patients believed it would be helpful to have their provider explain their medical bill.

Conversations about the patient financial burden should begin at the point of care—long before a healthcare consumer receives a bill. The problem is that providers often lack the ability to address financial concerns upfront. While many physicians are aware that financial instability is a top barrier to care, they cite limited time during patient visits and a shortage of resources to navigate patients toward cost-saving opportunities. 

The Opportunity: Patients are unlikely to bring up cost concerns unless providers take the lead. However, they are often willing to share their worries if physicians or pharmacists ask simple questions around affordability, such as “Do you think the costs of your treatment will pose difficulty?” 

Again, technology can play a role. Using predictive analytics, providers and pharmacists can proactively identify patients who may be at risk of financial distress—based on their treatment plan, insurance, and other factors. This takes the guesswork out of determining who may need financial assistance and provides a useful starting point for conversations about what patients may be charged for medications, testing, clinic co-pays, and more. Through open dialogue, providers and pharmacists can discuss potential financial toxicities before a patient abandons prescribed drugs or faces medical debt.

3. Access – Build Awareness and Increase Enrollment in Financial Resources.

The Challenge: While talking about cost concerns is key, communications should not end there. The next step is to build awareness about cost-saving resources—ranging from disease-specific foundation grants to drug manufacturer co-pay assistance to hospitals’ internal funds. 

In a 2020 survey, half of respondents said that financial assistance and access to charity care would help them make timely medical payments. Yet, all too often, patients are unaware of these resources and do not receive the help they need to access them.

The Opportunity: Health systems are increasingly recognizing the value of skilled financial navigators who can help patients alleviate the economic burden of care. In a recent study of blood cancer patients, those who received financial guidance or assistance not only relieved their financial distress, but also improved their medical outcomes

Software solutions can streamline the process by enabling financial navigators to easily match patients with available funding opportunities, based on the diagnosis, treatment plan, and more. They can then apply and enroll patients in these resources without leaving the platform—reducing time and maximizing potential savings. 

By investing in dedicated financial navigation teams and technology, providers increase the likelihood that patients can pay their bills, reducing uncompensated care and bad debt.

4. Payment – Create simple, convenient billing options.

The Challenge: When consumers pay a healthcare bill, they expect the same level of ease and convenience that they’ve come to expect for other services. However, more than half of consumers have been hit with an unexpected medical bill and 48% have been late on a payment, largely due to confusion over the amount owed. Many are more worried about the bill itself than about the care they receive.

The Opportunity: Healthcare organizations can alleviate confusion by creating bills that clearly state the patient’s financial responsibility and providing payment plans to meet individual needs. 

We often hear that healthcare’s transformation requires opening the “digital front door” through online appointment booking and other solutions that cater to digital natives. It’s just as important to simplify the final stage of a consumer’s journey—payment—by opening the digital back door. This means providing self-service or online payment options

For Providers, Financial Experience Should Be Top of Mind

Today, creating positive patient experiences is not only crucial to a healthcare organization’s mission, but also to its bottom line. As hospitals and health systems compete for patient loyalty, there’s a greater impetus to improve satisfaction at every stage of the medical journey. With consumers facing mounting healthcare costs, providers who invest in solutions to improve patient financial experience will stand out. By ensuring price transparency, cost communication, access to financial resources, and convenient payment, healthcare organizations will promote patient-centered care and boost financial performance.