Patient Financial Experience the New Focus for Revenue Cycle Tech

https://revcycleintelligence.com/features/patient-financial-experience-the-new-focus-for-revenue-cycle-tech?eid=CXTEL000000093912&elqCampaignId=8479&elqTrackId=be91ef7e45814e448e63f5f449863c07&elq=c0883462d36f46f1919e194284b0fcd0&elqaid=8937&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=8479

Facing healthcare consumerism and high deductibles, providers are seeking revenue cycle technology to deliver a high-quality patient financial experience.

Hospitals and practices have traditionally relied on public and private payers to cover the bulk of patient charges and costs for their services. Everything from their revenue cycle technologies to billing workflows has been tailored to create cleaner claims, reduce denials, and collect payer reimbursement.

But in an environment of record spending and changing attitudes towards purchasing and payment, payers are starting to shift more financial responsibility to their consumers. Nearly 21 million Americans had a high-deductible health plan or health savings account in 2017, and AHIP experts anticipate enrollment in high-deductible plans to continue climbing.

Increases in patient out-of-pocket spending are driving individuals to become more discerning healthcare consumers who demand more value for the medical services they receive. Plans and policymakers argue that the rise in healthcare consumerism will ultimately result in lower cost, higher quality care.

In the meantime, however, high-deductible health plans and other increases in out-of-pocket spending are presenting challenges to providers who are not used to this new player: the patient as a payer.

Three-quarters of providers report that they are seeing a noticeable upward trend in what patients must pay out of pocket.   At hospitals, total revenue attributable to patient balances after insurance rose 88 percent from 2012 to 2017.

While payers have been steadily shifting the financial responsibility to consumers, providers have yet to adapt their workflows and systems to collect revenue from this new source while delivering a satisfactory experience to consumers.

For example, nearly all 900 healthcare financial executives recently surveyed by HIMSS Analytics said their organizations still use paper-based billing and collection strategies – despite the fact that the same survey revealed more than half of patients prefer electronic billing methods.

Patients in the survey even said they were more likely to pay their medical bills if they had the option to do so online.

In light of these statistics, providers are facing the difficult task of transforming their manual patient collection processes to address this changing, consumer-focused trend.

“What we’ve seen historically has been that the revenue cycle has been not as well funded or not as strategically prioritized for healthcare delivery networks. A lot of the decision making has been either reactive or more short-term oriented,” Joe Polaris, Senior Vice President of Product and Technology at the health IT company R1 RCM, recently told RevCycleIntelligence.com.

“But we’re starting to see more of a long-term strategic vision coming together for their revenue cycles,” he added. “Organizations understand they need to make transformative change in light of some of the challenges that are only growing in the market, especially the need to be consumer-friendly.”

Revenue cycle technologies that cater to the patient financial experience are part of that transformative change, added Matt Hawkins, the CEO of Waystar, the newly combined revenue cycle management company formed by ZirMed and Navicure.

“Innovators are beginning, more so than ever, to treat the patient as a consumer,” he said. “A lot of health systems are demanding or embracing services or technologies that get them closer to patients from the earliest interaction point.”

The demand for technologies that cater to the patient financial experience is on the rise. And providers could face significant financial losses and patient retention problems if they fail to adapt to healthcare consumerism.

Becoming a patient-centered entity that can collect what it’s owed without alienating its consumers is a significant challenge, experts agree.  But embracing a handful of high-impact strategies could help to ensure that both patients and their providers complete the payment process feeling satisfied.

PRICE TRANSPARENCY LAYS THE FOUNDATION FOR PATIENT FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE

“Consumerism” may be a popular buzzword in the healthcare industry, but providers still have a long way to go before their patients can accurately compare their clinical journeys to their retail experiences.

For one thing, patients often agree to services or procedures with no clear idea of what they will ultimately cost.

Providers rarely offer prices or price estimates to patients prior to service delivery. In fact, the percentage of hospitals that are not able to give consumers price estimates actually increased from 14 percent in 2012 to 44 percent in 2018, a recent JAMA Internal Medicine study revealed.

With patients expecting the ability to plan their expenses, providers are looking to implement new revenue cycle technologies that can deliver accurate cost estimates and boost overall healthcare price transparency.

“How do we give patients shoppable experiences, so they can find out the cost of an MRI?” asked Christy Martin, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Optum360. “In their local care market, where is the best place to go in terms of both quality and cost? Then, if they go to a certain location, what are they expected to pay based on their insurance coverage? What would the out-of-pocket costs be at this point in the year?”

Informing consumers of their patient financial responsibility before the point-of-service is critical for providers seeking to improve the patient financial experience.

“In the immediate future, one of the things that we can unlock using technology is an understanding upfront about what the payment responsibility will be, and have that help inform all of the things that happen subsequent to presenting that to the patient,” Hawkins said.

Providing price estimates up front helped one health system in Oklahoma increase point-of-service collections by $17 million in seven years.

The Consumer Priceline tool at INTEGRIS Health is a database of charges for most procedures and services. The health system also promises to deliver written price quotes to consumers within two days if the service is not already included in the database.

INTEGRIS may be seeing significant patient collection improvements using price estimates, but providers should be aware that databases like the Consumer Priceline tool require a wealth of historical financial data.

“In the immediate future, one of the things that we can unlock using technology is an understanding upfront about what the payment responsibility will be.”

Merely posting chargemaster prices for common services and procedures is not necessarily helpful for patients. Giving consumers information about their patient financial responsibility and out-of-pocket costs is supposed to prevent sticker shock. Yet chargemaster prices are primarily used to start negotiations with payers, and the numbers can seem exorbitant to consumers.

“Chargemaster prices serve only as a starting point; adjustments to these prices are routinely made for contractual discounts that are negotiated with or set by third-party payers. Few patients actually pay the chargemaster price,” the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HMFA) explained to policymakers in May 2018.

Despite reservations about chargemaster prices, CMS recently required hospitals to publish a list of their standard charges online. And providers are scrambling to understand how to present the information in a meaningful way to consumers.

About 92 percent of providers in a recent poll said they were concerned about the new hospital price transparency requirement, and the majority also expressed concerns about how the public would perceive their standard charges.

Now more than ever, revenue cycle technologies that aggregate and analyze information on what patients actually pay will be critical for health systems.

UNIFYING THE PATIENT FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE

Healthcare is nothing like going grocery shopping. Not only do consumers not have access to prices, but the funding mechanism for medical services is also vastly different from a traditional retail experience.

Unlike what happens during a retail transaction, healthcare consumers rarely pay providers directly for services or procedures rendered. Instead, healthcare consumers use insurance plans, health savings accounts, and a wide range of other funding mechanisms to eventually pay providers after a service is delivered. They may also receive several bills and benefit documents from providers and insurers before receiving the final bill listing their financial responsibility.

As patients become more responsible for their healthcare spend, the onus is on providers to simplify the patient financial experience if they want to boost collections and save their bottom line.

Delivering a navigable and consistent financial experience is key to making the most of the newly consumer-driven environment, Polaris advised providers.

“The patient wants to have a clear and transparent journey through the healthcare system, and that’s much more challenging when they have to navigate different departments on different systems, asking for the same data over and over again, never coordinating, and never communicating a holistic end-to-end experience,” he said.

Integrated and seamless revenue cycle technologies aim to deliver a consistent patient financial experience by simplifying medical bills and bringing all providers in a practice, hospital, or health system under the same billing brand.

For example, a multi-specialty physician group in central Texas boosted patient collections by 24 percent and reduced the amount of patient cash sitting in A/R from 14 to two percent in one year by unifying the patient financial experience across their organization.

“Even though we were one clinic with 60 providers, our collection process treated every healthcare encounter separately,” explained Abilene Diagnostic Clinics CFO Andrew Kouba, CPA. “Patients were receiving bills for each physician they saw, which allowed them to pick and choose which bills to pay. When you get four statements and you think you got one experience, you’re confused as a patient.”

Consolidating all of Abilene’s providers under one billing system helped the group to deliver a consistent patient financial experience, which in turn simplified the payment process for consumers.

Revenue cycle departments are finding that end-to-end systems or interoperable bolt-on solutions are worth the investment. The integrated technologies allow healthcare organizations to guide the patient through the financial experience.

But to truly advance the patient financial experience, revenue cycle technology experts agreed that clinical and financial data integration is also vital.

“Being able to leverage the clinical and billing data to provide a better patient experience all the way around is a key capability,” Martin of Optum360 stated.

“While hospitals are certainly focused on providing high-quality care, there’s also this focus on how they can improve the overall patient financial experience to reduce the confusion, complexity, and lack of understanding around patient responsibility. Health systems are looking to provide ease of doing business to address patient responsibility and reduce patient bad debt.”

Revenue cycle technologies that can leverage both clinical and financial data are crucial to transforming the patient experience into a consumer-friendly encounter. Understanding the whole patient can help providers offer a consistent experience from the front office to the billing department.

SELF-SERVICE AS THE ULTIMATE PATIENT FINANCIAL EXPERIENCE GOAL

Price transparency tools and integrated revenue cycle technologies lay the groundwork for a consistent, intuitive patient financial experience. But revenue cycle technology vendors are also observing an increased interest in self-service portals and kiosks for the ultimate retail-like experience.

The disjointed, manual processes involved in the patient financial experience have not been convenient for consumers. Patients often have to interact with a call center or sit down with a staff member to complete basic tasks like scheduling, filling out insurance forms, or paying a medical bill, Polaris explained. In other industries, these tasks have already been replaced by mobile apps or automated systems.

“With digital self-service, we automate tasks like they do in the airline industry,” he said. “We let the patient book an appointment right on their mobile phone, get all the paperwork, fill out the forms they need, and check in at a kiosk.”

“Automation takes repetitive tasks that are frankly not patient- or consumer-friendly out of the process and makes the whole healthcare experience much more satisfying,” he stressed.

Self-service portals and kiosks have the potential to truly transform the patient financial experience into a more convenient, navigable journey. But healthcare organizations would need to invest in large amounts of revenue cycle automation to achieve this goal, Polaris acknowledged.

“Automation takes a lot of forms,” he explained. “There’s always been robotics, user emulation, and basic automation to complete individual tasks. But very few organizations have driven automation of entire processes, and that’s where we’re seeing more investment in transformative automation.”

Healthcare consumers have already voiced their support for more self-service options and more automation. A recent survey of over 500 individuals showed that in addition to offering more payment options and sending simpler bills, expanding access to self-service tools was a top suggestion for improving the patient financial experience.

“Automation takes repetitive tasks that are frankly not patient- or consumer-friendly out of the process and makes the whole healthcare experience much more satisfying.”

Providers are also expressing interest in implementing the relatively new technology in the revenue cycle space. Kouba from Abilene Diagnostic Clinic in Texas said he wanted to create a type of Disney FastPass for the patient financial experience.

“We want to simplify the process from pre-registration through bill collection and try to automate that similar to Disney’s FastPass,” Kouba stated. “Disney is one of the best experiences of all time and when you go there, they want you to interact with the people, all their products, and just enjoy yourselves. The last thing Disney wants you to think of is the terrible lines.”

“If we can remove the pain points and strive to ease that front piece, the patient will be focused on a friendly conversation when they walk in the door with the person that can answer questions, rather than being pestered to pull out their wallet.”

However, Kouba is not convinced that full automation will take over the healthcare industry any time soon.

As much as adopting retail-style approaches can improve the patient financial journey, providers must still ensure their technologies and processes work for them, too.

For example, Kouba decided that self-service technology that automates scheduling is not ideal for Abilene.

“In our group, most of our physicians like to follow their patients to the hospital, so the difficult piece with self-scheduling, especially from the provider’s side, is their schedules depend on what their rounds look like for the day. It’s very difficult to get them to commit to blocks of time,” he continued.

Self-service and automated tools may still be maturing in the revenue cycle technology space. But providers still have the option to improve the patient financial experience through systems that estimate patient financial responsibility and unify the billing experience.

And providers should be looking to the revenue cycle technology market for help. The rise of patient financial responsibility has been steady. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs have been growing, particularly since healthcare spending growth rates rapidly accelerate.

Implementing the right tools for their patients and their providers will be key to empowering patients to choose the highest value care while ensuring providers get paid for it.

 

 

 

 

Clinical Documentation and Coding Top Revenue Cycle Vulnerability

https://revcycleintelligence.com/news/clinical-documentation-and-coding-top-revenue-cycle-vulnerability?eid=CXTEL000000093912&elqCampaignId=8479&elqTrackId=0bbef7eb6fb747b58d9ba9db66b25519&elq=c0883462d36f46f1919e194284b0fcd0&elqaid=8937&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=8479

Image shows clinical documentation and coding is the top area at risk of lost or decreased revenue, according to most hospital leaders.

Hospitals are concerned their clinical documentation and coding processes are resulting in lost or decreased revenue, a new survey shows.

Hospital leaders are concerned that their organization’s clinical documentation and coding processes are vulnerable to errors that could result in lost or decreased revenue, according to a recent survey.

Consulting firm and technology vendor BESLER recently partnered with HIMSS Media to identify the greatest industry challenges and potential opportunities for revenue cycle improvement. They surveyed over 100 leaders within finance, revenue cycle, reimbursement, and health information management (HIM) departments at hospitals and acute-care facilities in October 2018.

The recently released survey results showed that 84 percent of respondents believe clinical documentation and coding are high or medium revenue cycle risk.

Hospital finance leaders were the most adamant that clinical documentation and coding presented significant revenue cycle challenges. Almost one-half of finance leaders chose clinical documentation and coding as their greatest revenue cycle vulnerability.

Although, the area was considered high or medium risk by over one-third of revenue cycle, reimbursement, and HIM leaders as well.

Clinical documentation and coding are creating revenue cycle vulnerabilities because solutions are not optimized for the diagnosis-related group (DRG) payment system, respondents shared. Only about one-third of hospital leaders said DRG optimization is a solved problem. In other words, the majority of hospital leaders (68 percent) do not think their solutions are equipped to manage DRG coding.

The DRG payment system has been around for over three decades. And major payers, including Medicare, use the payment system to determine lump-sum payments for hospitals that treat specific diagnoses.

While the payment system is not new, it is constantly evolving. Payers are attempting to get more specific about diagnoses to ensure hospitals are paid accurately for treating patients with certain conditions. The introduction of ICD-10 in 2015 is a prime example of how the industry has changed the DRG payment system.

But DRG changes are not ideal for providers. Hospitals find it difficult to follow and comply with constant DRG changes, and as a result, DRG coding accuracy has decreased. The report stated that the national benchmark for DRG assignment fell from 95 percent under ICD-9 to 72 percent in 2018.

Revenue cycle solutions, however, are optimized for inpatient coding and audits. Approximately 72 percent of respondents felt their technology is optimized for inpatient coding.

The survey also uncovered that respondents thought the accuracy of inpatient coding at their organizations was about the same as the industry benchmark.

Additionally, the majority of respondents (72 percent) agreed that their revenue cycle solutions are optimized for outpatient coding.

Opportunities to improve revenue cycle management technology remain. And poor coding integrity could result in the top two challenges hospitals face: claim denials (49 percent of respondents) and inaccurate reimbursements (47 percent of respondents).

Image shows claim denials and inaccurate reimbursements are the top two revenue cycle challenges, according to most hospital leaders.

Source: BESLER and HIMSS Media

However, hospitals and health systems face significant obstacles with improving their mid-revenue cycle processes, including DRG coding and documentation. Chief among the challenges is a lack of budget. Nearly one-half of hospital leaders (49 percent) said budget constraints prevented their organization from improving DRG coding and documentation.

Nearly the same percentage of leaders also felt return on investment (ROI) was an obstacle. Forty-eight percent of respondents said difficulty proving ROI from investment stopped their organization from executing DRG optimization efforts.

Other obstacles to improving the mid-revenue cycle included:

  • Competing projects (45 percent)
  • Lack of staff/headcount to manage improvement efforts (38 percent)
  • Lack of familiarly with solutions to address challenges (34 percent)
  • Existing solutions already widely entrenched or accepted (32 percent)
  • Overcoming internal perceptions that there is no need for improvement (30 percent)

Respondents identified a variety of challenges, but the survey also found a potential solution for hospitals and acute-care facilities. The survey showed that nearly half of respondents (47 percent) have created a revenue integrity program, which ensures organizations are being fully compliant with coding and billing practices while also achieving operational efficiency and legitimate reimbursement.

That means about 53 percent of hospitals still haven’t implemented a revenue integrity program.

About three-quarters of hospitals with revenue integrity programs reported improvements in net collections, increases in gross revenue capture, and/or reduction in compliance risk.

 

Hospital revenue cycles improving, but denials are up

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/hospital-revenue-cycles-improving-but-denials-are-up/511014/

Image result for insurance denials

Dive Brief:

  • Recycle cycle performance for hospitals and health systems is improving, but there are still major risks. These risks include increased denial write-offs, bad debt and inefficiencies, such as the costs associated with collecting from patients, according to Advisory Board’s recent Revenue Cycle Survey.
  • A median 350-bed hospital lost $3.5 million in increased denial write-offs from payers over the past four years, according to the report.
  • Jim Lazarus, national partner of technology at Advisory Board, said revenue cycle benchmarks are “encouraging,” but they also show “the risks of complacency.”

Dive Insight:

Advisory Board’s biennial survey reviewed four critical performance indicators. The researchers found mixed results. Denials remain an issue for hospitals, which wrote off 90% more uncollectable denials compared to six years ago.

The report also highlights downstream challenges. The median hospital successful denial appeals rate over the past two years:

  • Dropped from 56% to 45% for commercial payers
  • Fell from 51% to 41% for Medicaid
  • Increased from 50% to 64% for Medicare and Medicare Advantage

Advisory Board predicted that denials will remain an issue as an increasing number of them “are based on medical necessity rather than technical or demographic error.”

James Green, national partner of consulting at Advisory Board, said hospitals and health systems need strategies to address denials proactively.  “The wide range of denials performance among health systems — spanning 3% of net patient revenue between high and low performers — amounts to a $10 million swing for a median 350-bed hospital. Appeals are becoming increasingly difficult, so health systems should focus on approaches such as improved documentation and authorization processes,” said Green.

Another issue for health systems and hospitals is cash flow. In a bit of good news, the median performance for net accounts receivable days improved 8% between 2015 and 2017. However, Advisory Board warned the gains may be partially caused by write-offs and other factors, which can reduce accounts receivable and pose other challenges.

In another bit of good news, expanded coverage via the Affordable Care Act reduced hospital bad debt. However, that is offset by more and higher patient deductibles. Hospitals in Medicaid expansion states performed better regarding less bad debt, but high-deductible health plans (HDHP) increased unpaid patient obligations across all states regardless of whether they expanded Medicaid.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the average deductible for people with employer-based health insurance increased from $303 in 2006 to $1,505 in 2017.

Advisory Board said the increase of HDHPs shows hospitals and health systems need to focus on patient collections, particularly at the point of service (POS). The report said a median 350-bed hospital could increase collections from $800,000 to nearly $3 million by improving POS collections. Advisory Board added that systems that collect upfront often give patients discounts, which result in a 90% increase in POS collections compared to those that do not offer discounts.

The cost of collections is an issue that continues to plague health systems. The median cost to collect has remained at 3% over the past four years, but that is higher than what it cost a decade ago. Advisory Board said reducing those costs are critical given the softening hospital margin trends in the past year. Health systems have also not realized cost improvements despite consolidation and centralized revenue cycle functions.

“While, for example, patient access is difficult to centralize, other functions present good opportunities, such as coding, billing, collections, denials and payer contracting, especially given their high operational costs for these functions,” said Christopher Kerns, executive director of research at Advisory Board.

Lower reimbursements and inpatient services coupled with a payer push for more outpatient services and patients taking on more responsibility for out-of-pocket costs is causing hospitals and health systems to figure out ways to survive. While Advisory Board mentioned suggestions to improve revenue cycle, some systems have instead decided mergers and acquisitions and divestitures are a better way to go.

Going those routes to improve financial footing has their own set of barriers. For instance, mergers and acquisitions reduce expenses for hospitals, but they can also cut revenue and hurt margins in the first two years, according to a recent report by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, in collaboration with Healthcare Financial Management Association.

As the Advisory Board report shows, there is some good news concerning hospital revenue cycles. However, hospitals must continue to improve patient collections as well as reduce payer denials — in a cost-effective manner — if they can expect to remain viable.

 

Report: $262B in healthcare claims initially denied last year

http://www.healthcaredive.com/news/report-262b-in-healthcare-claims-initially-denied-last-year/445758/

Image result for claim denials

Dive Brief:

  • new report by Change Healthcare found an estimated 9% of claims submitted to payers last year was initially denied. Of the estimated $3 trillion in charges submitted to payers, $262 billion was initially denied.
  • The report said as much as 3.3% of net patient revenue, an average of $4.9 million per hospital, was “put at risk due to denials.”
  • Change Healthcare said 63% of the claims were recoverable and providers spent $8.6 billion to appeal the claims, which cost an average of $118 per claim.

Dive Insight:

Change Healthcare published “Healthy Hospital Revenue Cycle Index” on Monday at the Healthcare Financial Management Association ANI 2017 conference. The organization said the results “reinforce the tremendous opportunity hospitals have to accelerate cash flow and reduce administrative costs by using advanced analytics to better manage the revenue cycle.”

Change Healthcare bases its index on primary institutional inpatient and outpatient claims processed by the organization in 2016. The company reviewed more than 3.3 billion provider transactions at 724 hospitals that valued $1.8 trillion.

The report found that the Pacific states had the highest denial rate (10.89%) and the most common denial causes were “registration/eligibility” (23.9%) and “missing or invalid claim data” (14.6%).

With many hospitals facing razor-thin margins, these kinds of revenue cycle issues play a role in whether a hospital can grow and reinvest in its facilities. This report shows the importance of a strong revenue cycle that provides relevant information that payers can use to approve claims.