My colleague’s teenager was scheduled months ago for surgery in July, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, her parents are in a quandary about whether or how to proceed. Unfortunately, there’s been no recent information from her surgeon, primary care physician and hospital as they grapple with many uncertainties and pressing priorities.
While her condition is thankfully not life-threatening, confusion and fear around COVID exposure is keeping people with emergencies such as heart attack, stroke and other serious symptoms from seeking medical help, according to numerous news reports. Oncologists also fear that patients delaying care will result in worse cancer outcomes, according to Modern Healthcare.
Compounding the problem is economic upheaval due to layoffs and reductions in work hours. Repeating the pattern of previous downturns, Americans are forgoing care: 31 percent of all adults, and 42 percent of adults in families that lost work or income, went without medical services in the past month, according to an Urban Institute poll.
Now, even as COVID cases continue, healthcare is moving to resume elective procedures and eventually more routine care–escalating the urgent need for patient communications.
Revenue cycle management companies are uniquely positioned to support healthcare providers and their patients by delivering critical messages, guidance, and communications about safely receiving in-person medical care, telehealth alternatives, patient payment options, and more.
Unfortunately, healthcare organizations are facing financial challenges. As they prioritize spending, expanding patient communications may be perceived as something they can’t afford right now. But this short-term thinking could work against them, with leery patients continuing to steer clear of non-coronavirus medical services and prolonging or worsening the cash crunch
Focus on Early Revenue Cycle Stages
What’s needed are proactive outreach campaigns using existing RCM channels, including print and digital communications and phone calls. The goal: Quickly, clearly and compassionately offer instructions, guidance and reassurance on key questions that Americans have about medical care:
- Is it safe?
- What are my options?
- Can I afford it?
Healthcare is on the leading edge among industries in developing new policies, procedures, standards and options for safely and effectively providing its non-COVID services amid the pandemic and beyond. With their advanced call center capabilities and powerful customer communications management (CCM) technology, RCM firms are primed to work with providers to disseminate this vital information.
Given the agility of CCM systems, especially ones integrated with digital and print production and mail services, RCM firms and their provider clients can pivot on a dime. By rapidly creating and sending patient communications, they will become the trusted enabler for essential information as shelter-in-place rules and other circumstances change.
Addressing Patient Access
Safety, availability and affordability are foremost concerns, and communications could include:
- Providing a checklist for choosing in-person care or telehealth
- Promoting virtual visits, with easy instructions and links
- Handling preregistration for in-person visits or procedures digitally and via phone, to eliminate time spent face-to-face filling out paperwork or congregating in waiting areas
- Explaining safety procedures and precautions for in-person care
- Describing timing and patient processes/requirements for resuming care, from mammograms and sports physicals to physical therapy and specialist appointments
- Clarifying testing policies and other issues around COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment
- Offering patient payment plans and charity care options early and often
Addressing affordability is imperative. Record numbers of Americans have filed for unemployment, and many have also lost their health insurance. Millions more have taken pay cuts. In every economic downturn, people forgo necessary care because they can’t pay for it.
Patient financial communications are RCM firms’ sweet spot, and there is so much important and timely information to convey, which can be easily customized to meet each provider client’s policies, including:
- Flexible financing options, who qualifies and how to apply
- How-to’s for managing payment plans and making payments–with online, phone and mail options
- Ways to receive financial counseling and help navigating payment options
- The ban on surprise medical bills for providers that accept federal emergency funds
By closing the communications gap, RCM firms and healthcare providers can help patients get access to vital safety, clinical and payment information, providing people a lifeline to get the care they need and offering peace of mind.
About the Author
Ann Garnier is a seasoned healthcare leader, helping to create, launch, and scale innovative tech companies and products that have improved patient outcomes and access to care. Ann is founder and CEO of Lisa Health, a digital health company catering to midlife women, and advisor to Nordis Technologies. She also served as COO at CarePayment and senior vice president of marketing and operations at RelayHealth.
Founder and CEO at Lisa Health