[Editor’s note:  The following article is drawn, in part, from “Four Pathways to Improved Patient Satisfaction,” a free webinar on Jan. 16 presented by Ontario Systems and Experian Healthcare. For more information, click here]

The next best thing to reading the minds of your patients is to anticipate their needs before they ask and to have the policies, procedures, and infrastructure in place to help them resolve any financial constraint.

That’s why we recommend healthcare providers take an “empathetic” approach to their patients.

“Empathy” should not be confused with “sympathy.” Sympathy is when one feels the same as another—the same fear, anger, hurt, elation. “Empathy,” on the other hand, is when one possesses an understanding of what another person is experiencing and feeling, but without the emotional involvement.

The key to effective patient relations, especially for those in the business office, is to be compassionate with regard to what they are feeling and be empathetic so that we can put ourselves in their position and put us in the position to offer effective guidance so they will be able to meet their financial obligations with the least stress.

By employing an empathetic approach, healthcare providers can anticipate the needs and behavior of patients and then offer solutions to help them resolve any financial constraints they may be experiencing.

Know before they ask

Anticipating the needs of your patient community requires a holistic approach to accounts receivable. When you communicate with a patient – either over the phone or in writing – the more visibility that you have into that patient’s entire relationship with your business will enhance your understanding of the challenges they face.

Greater visibility will make your organization more effective in addressing those challenges, and the benefit will be increased cash and reduced bad debt write-offs. Without that visibility, it’s easy for liabilities to “fall through the cracks” and sit on the books for several months or even years.

You want to be able to talk to a patient about all their bills at the same time, not just the most recent. That’s the difference between one phone call, or three. Patients walk away with greater satisfaction when they see a hospital remains as focused on their financial well-being as their clinical care.

While technology can help you ensure consistency and manage increasing account volumes, it will not be effective unless your organization is willing to commit to an empathetic approach. Before you even look for technical solutions such as a contact management system, you need to as organization to make purposeful, clear plans based on your community’s needs and goals. Only after you establish communication strategies to effectively communicate those options will you be ready to execute on the technical level.

Providing solutions

Understanding your patient’s financial challenges represents only half of the equation. You also need to provide a wide-range of options to help them meet their financial obligations,

For example, in today’s healthcare business environment, it’s imperative to understand the myriad ways people want to make a payment. Do your patients prefer IVR or a call center? A letter or a web portal? None, some, or all of the above?

A 20-something-year-old patient is less likely to answer a smart phone than their parents. And their parents are less likely to check their email each night. The difference highlights the need to establish programs, policies, and procedures that focus on patient convenience.

Your organization should be run by a simple maxim: No patient who wants to fulfill their financial obligations ever should go to collections. Period.

These patients are the ones who are most likely to become frustrated, which in turn makes them less-than-satisfied patients. The effect on your organization is a double whammy: You don’t collect the payments you’re owed because your system won’t allow patients to pay you efficiently, and the payment you’re owed becomes more risky and less collectable as patient satisfaction takes a hit.

By employing an empathetic approach to your patient base, you can resolve issues before they become apparent. The more channels you put in place to increase convenience for your patients who want to pay, your patient satisfaction and revenues will simultaneously increase.

Four Pathways to Improved Patient Satisfaction” a free webinar – Thursday, January 16

Register here for this complimentary webinar to learn how top-performing healthcare providers employ increased patient satisfaction as a strategic advantage to simultaneously grow revenue.

In this webinar Steve Scibetta of Ontario Systems and Shawn Yates of Experian Healthcare will present a step-by-step approach to improve patient satisfaction that directly results in increased revenue from self-pays, helps patients cope with higher deductible insurance plans, and reverses decreasing patient accounts receivable collections.

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