November 6, 2018

Financial Toxicity: A Looming Revenue Cycle Challenge

Financial Toxicity is a term you should get to know well.

Healthcare involves so much more than time spent with clinicians. It’s a holistic experience that includes physical outcomes, emotional responses, and even financial relationships. Revenue cycle leaders who view healthcare as an all-encompassing experience can take advantage of new opportunities at every touch point to improve outcomes and influence patient experiences.

First, though, it’s critical to understand how much of an impact financial experiences can have on our patients.

Stress Impacts Patient Health

Financial toxicity is a concept that started with research on cancer patients to describe additional problems related to the cost of treatment that non-cancer patients tend not to experience.

Cancer patients face an onslaught of bills and out-of-pocket costs associated with hospital stays, outpatient services, procedures, tests, medications, and appointments. Cancer survivors report higher out-of-pocket spending than non-cancer patients and even report dedicating more than 20 percent of their annual income to medical care.

These findings aren’t surprising considering that cancer is one of the most expensive medical conditions, and that large financial burdens have been found to impact clinical outcomes.

We also see a similar dynamic with transplant recovery. Researchers around the U.S. are studying the effects of transplants beyond physical recovery. Dr. Stephanie Lee, an investigator focused on quality-of-life and transplant survivorship, warned that financial stress could potentially lower the success rates of transplants, and at the very least, drag the focus of the patient and family away from health and recovery.


A Truly Holistic Wellness Program

As patient burdens for healthcare costs rise, it will become even more important to bring revenue cycle policies and standards in line with patient wellness goals.

Your patients’ financial experience doesn’t exist separately from their overall wellness — it’s an integral element from the very first cost estimate until the last bill is sent. If you’re invested in breaking down the silos that encourage financial toxicity to spread among your patients, we have a few solutions.

Prioritize Patient Financial Engagement

Start with prioritizing overall patient engagement.

One of the reasons the overall healthcare experience can be stressful and detrimental to healing is feeling a loss of power or a disconnect from the process. Make sure you’re communicating with your patients through multi-pronged, pre-visit touch points and leveraging phone, mobile, text, and email to create a strong foundation of communication.

Have Conversations Up Front             

Your patients will get a lot of value from talking about costs as early in the revenue cycle process as possible.

A study in the American Journal of Managed Care revealed that 52 percent of adult cancer patients wanted to talk about out-of-pocket costs. It also found 51 percent genuinely wanted their doctor to consider costs when planning their treatment, but only 19 percent actually experienced those conversations. When the conversations did happen, they only lasted about half a minute.

If you aren’t providing your patients with estimates of their costs of care, you just might be depriving them of positive health outcomes and putting a dent in the patient experience. Prioritize point-of-service payment estimation to not only improve their experience, but also boost their opinion of your organization.

Communicate Clearly

Dealing with a medical condition is stressful, and patients don’t need any additional confusion in their lives. This is why it’s so important that financial communications are clear, concise, and aligned with your patients’ needs.

Take a step forward with your communication design that sets the proper tone and clearly lays out your patients’ obligations. Move away from cold, corporate, black and white statements toward colors that invoke a sense of calm and professionalism.

Make sure your customer service phone numbers and email addresses are prominently featured, so patients don’t expend extra energy searching bills and inserts to find them. To find out what works best for your patient populations, employ A/B testing and continue to iterate over time.


Let Patients Pay the Way They Want

Most importantly, make sure your patients don’t have to go out of their way to settle balances.

Your patients might want to receive statements via mobile or split their responsibility across multiple cards. Especially for high-cost treatments, financial flexibility will be crucial in avoiding negative outcomes such as financial toxicity. If you don’t currently have the tools to give your patients the flexibility they need, it’s time to consider a new approach to your merchant services agreements.

Revenue cycle decisions are now an integral part of the patient experience, and patients rightfully expect an approach to their care that prioritizes end-to-end wellness. Make sure you’re leveraging the right technology to achieve all your patient financial experience goals.


RevSpring Can Help

Integrated payment communication is part of RevSpring’s DNA. We tailor the payment conversation to influence behavior and inspire action. Our segmentation rules and workflows help you become hyper-focused on the patient, understanding their ability to pay and mapping their financial obligations to repayment pathways.

If you’d like to learn more about our comprehensive patient engagement and billing solutions, we’d love to help you. Request a demo to see how we can help your organization meet its goals.