How to talk to patients about payments

HFMA: Early, open communication is key

The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) on Sunday released its list of best practices to guide patient financial interactions.

Speaking at the association's annual meeting, HFMA president and CEO Joseph Fifer called the practices "critical," stressing the importance of clear and consistent conversations with patients who are increasingly becoming "responsible for a greater proportion of their health care costs."

According to a news release, the best practices were developed by a steering committing of leaders from HMFA, the National Patient Advocate Foundation (NPAF), the American Hospital Association, Harvard Medical School, and America's Health Insurance Plans. The committee was overseen by an advisory council that included several former senators and former HHS secretaries Donna Shalala and Michael Leavitt.

The best practices are available for public comment through July 31. The final guidelines will be released in the fall for voluntary adopted by health care providers.

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Details of best practices

The guidelines are broken down by where and when financial interactions occur with patients: in the ED, in non-emergency settings, in advance of medical treatment, and when resolving outstanding balances.

Generally, the best practices for discussing treatment costs after patients have been screened and stabilized, include:

  • Gathering basic insurance registration information, as well as determining if the patient will require financial aid;
  • Informing patients that their ability to pay will not impact their emergency or non-elective care;
  • Reviewing insurance benefit details to ensure the accuracy of payment data;
  • Offering financial counseling; and
  • Explaining that patients must make payment arrangements and may need to cover outstanding hospital bills or have elective services postponed.

In a statement, NPAF's Nancy Davenport-Ennis—who helped created the guidelines—said, "Patients and their families enter the health care system when they are most vulnerable, and then they encounter financial processes that are challenging even to veteran health care professionals."

She added, "The early, clear financial conversations described in these best practices will help give patients peace of mind and help providers receive appropriate payment—both key objectives for the health care system to function with fairness and compassion" (Bouchard, Healthcare Finance News, 6/17; Letourneau, Health Leaders Media, 6/17; McLaughlin, Becker's Hospital Review, 6/17).

  • Addressing Patients' Financial Obligations: The Oncology Roundtable outline the best practices for optimizing collections while supporting patients with need.

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