Patient statements: Time for a redesign?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” some will say. But how well does it work?

“It” in this instance is the patient financial statement, a critical but often overlooked component of business operations. Of course, statements should inform individuals about their financial responsibilities in a concise yet compelling way. A clear understanding can drive higher payment rates, and reduce the volume of inbound inquiries and outbound collections calls.

The incorporation of color can be the first step to creating patient-friendly statements. A patient-friendly statement utilizes color strategically to not only make the information more readable, but also counter negative reactions that a bill often induces. Pantone, an organization with a reputation for matching and communicating color for the graphic arts community, has developed insights into the psychology of color that can also be applied to patient communications. For example, certain hues are known to evoke human emotion ranging from excitement, to calm, to anxiety.

Warm colors, for example, appear closer to the viewer, and direct the eye to points of interest or importance on the page. Consider calling out these items on the statement (such as “balance due”) in yellow or orange. Red is okay, too, but use it sparingly and in a muted fashion; it has been shown to stimulate the senses and increase stress, which isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to patient statements. And don’t be afraid to mix striking color combinations to focus the reader’s eye on a certain point on the page. A statement could include blue and orange to call out a patient’s various payment options, for example.

Compelling use of fonts and typefaces, including bold, underlined and capital letters, are also effective in adding clarity to patient statements. But if the information isn’t organized in a logical manner, efforts to be creative are all for naught. Make sure the statement’s layout guides patients through the important details, including account identifiers, a summary of charges, itemized lists of charges and, of course, the outstanding balance. Some statements go even further and provide more detailed account information, breaking down total charges minus insurance and previously applied payments for example, while others call attention to the methods of payment accepted, even providing a credit card form with the bill.

While many organizations view the patient statement as a functional tool to prompt payment by a specified date, the truth is that the statement is underutilized as a tool to communicate other important information that might be helpful for the patient. Verifying that the patient’s insurance carrier has successfully processed the claim might prevent a time-consuming follow-up call, for instance. And assuming there is room, what better place than a patient statement to include a wellness tip and, of course, a note thanking patients for their business.

With the right technology in place, healthcare providers can provide additional customized information on the patient statement as well. Many organizations are incorporating dynamic messaging capabilities, creating business rules to specify who should get which message based on predetermined criteria. With data drawn from the scheduling system, for instance, patients could be reminded of their next appointment date. Or, financial records might indicate that a credit card number on file has expired. A note on the patient statement to that effect makes for an easy resolution.

While a sophisticated printing solution may sound prohibitively expensive, advancements in printer mechanics have made such technologies very affordable. With full-color, high-resolution printing systems, organizations can produce more effective and user-friendly bills.

Successful healthcare organizations leave nothing to chance, carefully evaluating how all aspects of patient communications can help them achieve high satisfaction levels and a healthier revenue cycle. Billing statements should not be overlooked in their utility as a communication medium. Consider redesigning patient statements to not only convey vital payment information, but also to deliver other helpful details designed to reduce patient follow-ups and cut down on the amount of money your organization spends on paper and postage. The result will be lower billing costs and more timely cash flow and, most important, patients who are well informed about their responsibilities.

Craig Hodges is vice president of operations at Emdeon, a provider of revenue and payment cycle management and clinical information exchange solutions.