How St. Luke's Hospital increased patient satisfaction with their billing system to 52%

Health systems' revenue cycles are designed for government and commercial payers, but patients are looking for a more consumer-based approach to billing. Here's how St. Luke's Health System created a revenue cycle that keeps up with patient's "shifting" needs and boasts high patient satisfaction ratings, according to Healthcare Finance News' Beth Jones Sanborn.

Follow the patient financial journey—same path, new perspective

The problem with technical billing statements

Jones Sanborn writes that more and more patients are asking for an alternative to hospitals' typical billing systems—which Bob Mueller, VP of revenue cycle for St. Luke's, said often are too technical and rule-focused for patients to navigate.

Mueller observed this problem at St. Luke's in 2013, when 72% of patients reported that they were less than satisfied with the health system's billing process and expressed complaints like "why can't I self-serve?" and "[w]hy can't I get a consolidated view of my bills?"

"It's really that understanding of what patients are looking for that is missed," Mueller said, adding, "We are hitting a tipping point. So it is a significant risk point for us and other health systems."

St. Luke's overhauls its billing system

To improve patient satisfaction, St. Luke's set out to improve its billing system by:

  • Changing the layout of its paper billing statements; and
  • Improving call center interactions with patients.

For instance, St. Luke's increased the number of staff at call centers and provided more training, so that calls were almost always answered and patients' issues were handled and resolved. The system also sought feedback from patients on their interactions with call center staff to inform future training.

In addition, St. Luke's changed its paper billing statements to be more "user-friendly." The health system made the statements easier to read by separating them into sections that displayed previous balances, unpaid charges, new charges, and what the patient paid the previous month.

St. Luke's uses VisitPay, which currently is used by 60,000 patients. The portal allows patients to view and pay their bills online. Patients can use VisitPay to opt in to a payment plan and extended-payment options, which patients previously could do only by calling and speaking to billing staff.

Patient satisfaction reaches high at St. Luke's

Mueller said, when it comes to medical bills, patients want clarity, options, and control over their payments. "A happy, satisfied, informed patient will pay more and is willing to make payments," he said.  

After implementing the changes, St. Luke's saw the billing system's patient satisfaction rate jump to 52%, with patient satisfaction "upwards of 80% at times" for patients using the digital platform, according to Mueller.

Self-pay collections also increased by 38%, and cost-per-dollar collected during the revenue cycle decreased by 21%. "Every dollar collected is one less dollar that goes to bad debt for the bottom line," Mueller said, adding, "All that improvement would have been additional cost and expense had it not been collected."

Mueller said the user-friendly digital billing "trend isn't going away," and whether or not a system keeps up will affect its bottom line.  As a result, keeping patients in the loop on payment options and program offerings will "not only be crucial to satisfaction, it will become the norm," Jones Sanborn reports (Jones Sanborn, Healthcare Finance News, 11/13).

Follow the patient financial journey—from pre-care through billing and collections

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