Most Billing Statements Violate Every Rule of Good Communication

By Casey Williams, VP of Patient Engagement, RevSpring
Twitter: @RevSpringInc

Billing statements are infamous for being difficult to read, but we tend to underestimate just how much confusion they introduce into the patient’s understanding of their healthcare experience. Here’s a little proof.

When you compare how often people search “how to read a phone bill” and “how to read a medical bill,” the difference is staggering on any day. No one is asking Google how to read their phone bill, but up to 100 people a day don’t know where to start in deciphering their medical bills. Play with that search yourself, and you’ll find something similar with “restaurant receipts” and even “bank statements.”

The billing statement is failing at getting information to patients, but many facilities still rely on them as the cornerstone of patient communication. This is a huge problem because your average statement breaks basically every rule of good communication.

The Real Problem
The humble billing statement has enormous potential to take the lead in strong patient communication, but this will only happen if we take the time to understand how big of an impact it has on the overall healthcare experience.

Cash Flows
If patients don’t understand, they won’t pay — or at least they won’t pay in full. In an environment where patient responsibility is increasing, and according to TransUnion, 99 percent of patients with bills over $3,000 aren’t paying their responsibility in full, statements that are anything less than stellar are a front-line risk to an organization’s cash flows.

Patient Financial Experience
While we’re on the topic of comprehension, putting patients in a position where they’re confused and likely frustrated is a great way to encourage them to switch providers.

Patient Outcomes
The financial experience can be so much of a burden to patients that it can impact clinical outcomes. This is especially true for patients with chronic, high-cost conditions like cancer. Excessive financial burden can be stressful to the point that it impacts quality of life and adherence to treatment. A lack of clarity only compounds that stress.

The Five Golden Rules of a Good Patient Communication
Simply accepting that most patients are confused by their billing statements (a full 74 percent of them) doesn’t get at the heart of the matter. Patient billing communications actually miss the mark on the most basic levels of patient connection.

Psychology Today talks about rules of good communication, and billing statements fall short on all five of their “rules of good talking.”

1. Guide the Eye with Good Design
Look at your average statement and you’ll find anything but clear and concise information. This is because most statements are built from the perspective of hospital revenue cycle systems. Unless you’re used to reading them, they can be difficult to navigate – even for clinicians who have an intimate understanding of what’s being billed.

Use strategically-placed images and pops of color to keep things clear and draw the eye to the information that’s most important to your patients.

2. Keep Communication Clear and Unambiguous
Your average statement has jargon on steroids. From insurance terminology to coding that even professionals are trying to catch up on, billing statements are filled with language that’s anything but natural or clear. Keep communication at a seventh grade reading level and use language that’s considered “normal” for your patient population.

3. Focus on the Non-Verbal
This might be the biggest offending area for a typical patient billing statement. Aside from an occasional logo, they are all text and numbers. Incorporate practical design elements like color and white space that give the reader’s eyes room to process the information they’re trying to absorb.

4. Repetition is Your Friend
In all fairness, some bills do get this one right, but mostly by accident. Even then, the figures and statements that are repeated aren’t necessarily what is most important for the patient to understand. Repeating pertinent information, like amounts due and payment options, can provide a boost in optimal payment outcomes.

5. Check for Understanding
Most billing communications emphasize telling a patient what they owe without clearly letting them know they can contact a provider to ask questions. Consider highlighting customer service contact information to make sure patients know they’re welcome to ask for more information.

The importance of statements in the hospital-to-patient communication process cannot be stressed enough. Patients crave clarity and simplicity while navigating a healthcare billing process that can be stressful and intimidating. They already enjoy the benefits of intelligent statement design in other areas of their lives and are waiting on their healthcare providers to step forward.

RevSpring Can Help
RevSpring is a leader in patient communication and payment systems designed to inspire action. We combine dynamic workflows, business intelligence, responsive messaging and behavioral analytics to tailor engagement opportunities so patients can be more proactive in their healthcare journey — from appointment scheduling to payments.

If you’d like to learn more about our comprehensive patient engagement and billing solutions, we’d love to help you.

This article was originally published on RevSpring and is republished here with permission.