Building brand with a pricing communications plan

Picture This

A bill shows up in the mail from a recent healthcare visit. At first glance all seems normal, but when you take a closer look you realize your co-pay amount doesn’t look right. You call the customer service number on the bill, and after waiting on hold, they look up your account and say yes, there was a mistake made on their part. You’re filled with relief when they say they’ll fix it right away and have the new, correct bill mailed out shortly.

Only it isn’t. Weeks pass, and instead of sending you the correct bill, you’re notified that you still owe the original amount. Now you have to play phone tag and go back and forth with the billing department, trying to get it all sorted out.

Best case scenario, you finally reach someone after wasting hours of your time, and they fix your account. Worst case scenario, your incorrect bill gets forwarded to a collections agency, and you’re suddenly forced to explain your situation to a receptionist who shouldn’t even be involved in the first place. How would you feel about the organization who put you through that mess? Probably not great. Now imagine you have to market that company. How would you turn a confusing mess into a positive interaction? Here are some of our ideas:

The Problem

According to a 2016 study, 6 in 10 patients rated the medical bills they receive as either “confusing” or “very confusing”. With high deductibles and out of pocket expenses, patients are more concerned than ever with knowing how much their payments will be.

When patients have a bad billing experience, they won’t be afraid to say so, whether that’s yelling at a receptionist over the phone, ranting online, or complaining to any of their friends who will listen. Any of these could turn potential patients away in favor of your competitor.

The Solution

Establishing a clear and understandable financial communications plan will help patients anticipate ahead of time how much they will owe, if they are eligible for assistance, or what to do if billing goes wrong.

Establish a plan

Providers and marketers should develop an easy to understand guide on commonly asked questions and discussions, and staff should receive annual training to stay up to date.

Be ready for questions

Providers should have a toll-free number (staffed by a real person, not a machine) dedicated solely to financial questions. Patients should be able to find the number easily in their paperwork or on your organization’s website.

Build a cost estimator

Another way to make the billing process less stressful for patients is to implement a cost estimator in their patient portal. If patients can understand roughly how much they’ll pay out of pocket vs. deductible vs. copay, they won’t be surprised when the final bill comes, and they’ll be prepared to pay in a timely manner. Some insurance companies also have started using cost estimator tools, so if certain insurers you deal with have this available, it could be a good idea to let patients know.

Reinforce the message

If your organization already has great patient communication practices in place, make sure new patients know this, and longer-term patients are frequently reminded. Consider using email and direct mail to remind patients what financial counseling, assistance, or cost estimator services are available.

How is this a marketing problem?

Although marketers don’t control the price of procedures or how much insurers will cover, if patients have a better understanding of what costs are before they complete their visit, they won’t be surprised when a bill comes weeks later, or they have to pay on top of their copay. Being transparent about the cost of procedures will lower the chances of patients being “blindsided” by collections and will create a better patient experience. If a patient has a particularly bad billing experience, they won’t be shy to berate your organization, or worse, take to the internet claiming “I would give them less than one star if I could.”

To learn more, check out our ebook 5 ways to make healthcare more affordable.