Engaging patients and cutting costs in uncompensated care

Healthcare providers must use different methods to communicate with patients. And providers need to understand how their patients are thinking.

How do healthcare providers get patients the best treatment and reduce uncompensated care?

Providers must find out how their customers want to be engaged, said Jason Lee, vice president of product management at Change Healthcare, a health technology company based in Nashville.

In a virtual session during the Becker’s Hospital Review 9th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable, Lee talked about directing patients to the best care, engaging them in different ways, and how artificial intelligence and behavioral science can help providers connect with their patients.

“It’s an important thing to understand the patient, which impacts how you outreach, engage and work with them,” Lee said.

Here are some highlights from his session Nov. 18.

Patients need guidance

Consumers increasingly expect healthcare providers to direct them to the type of care they should get. Without direction, “patients will go to the easiest place they can find care,” Lee said. Often, patients end up in the emergency department or urgent care.

“The most convenient one isn’t always the most effective or most appropriate for the patient,” Lee noted.

Healthcare providers need to get them in the best venue for care. It keeps patients in the provider’s system, improves patient satisfaction, cuts costs and reduces unnecessary emergency department visits.

“At the end of the day, it’s good for the patient, too,” Lee said.

But Lee said that requires understanding how patients are thinking.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying stress, many people are simply overwhelmed. When people are stressed, they don’t always make the best decisions. So healthcare providers must help patients make better decisions.

Multiple communications platforms

Some patients want to be contacted in different ways. Some prefer emails or texting. Others need a phone call because they have limited access to technology. Some may want a letter via traditional mail.

Healthcare providers also need to understand people may want different types of communication at different times, Lee said. A patient may prefer most interactions over email, but may be confused reading test results in an email. Such a patient may prefer a live call from a doctor or a nurse to understand the test results.

“Certain types of engagement require different methods of communication,” Lee said.

Framing the message

Increasingly, reaching out to patients to encourage them to avoid a loss is more effective than hyping a potential gain, Lee said.

For example, it may be better to tell patients, “Don’t lose the opportunity to have your medical bill paid,” as opposed to “Try and get your bill paid today,” Lee said.

Don’t underestimate the call to action, by asking patients if they have five free minutes. Express sentiments of support (“we’re here for you”).

Engagement mechanisms

Providers must offer different ways for customers to engage, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Enabling a touch-less experience is more critical now than ever,” Lee said.

Providers should offer options such as remote check-in from the parking lot, Lee said. Let patients wait outside until it’s time for their appointment and text them when they can come inside. Allow patients to complete forms on their own device as opposed to a kiosk in the office.

Data drives engagement

Artificial intelligence and behavioral science can enable providers to connect with patients and reduce costs, Lee said.

He said AI can help identify patients that are more likely to qualify for eligibility of benefits programs, and work queues could be prioritized through patient eligibility.

Plus, AI can help predict patients that may likely miss appointments. AI algorithms can detect patterns of those who don’t show up.

Healthcare providers can use that data to potentially book additional appointments in areas where there are higher chances of no-shows. Providers could also send more reminders to patients to help increase the chances they keep their appointments.