From larger organizations to private practice, the healthcare industry has evolved to view the provider and patient relationship as more of a partnership. Patients today expect more than just excellent care from their healthcare practitioners. They expect price transparency, convenience, and an understanding of their own health.

As a practitioner, choosing to take on these needs may help create overall business growth and improve your bottom line. The healthcare industry has been slow to meet these demands, so practice owners who rise to the challenge may be in a better position to attract and retain patients.

Consider these trends and how your practice may be able to apply them to move the business forward.

Providing price transparency

Today’s consumers are accustomed to the convenience of comparing prices online before purchasing a product or service, but traditional healthcare doesn’t easily allow for that process. Patients are often unaware of their out-of-pocket expenses until a bill arrives from their provider. In fact, two-thirds of Americans are “very” or “somewhat” worried about being able to afford unexpected medical bills.

For this reason, the concept of price transparency has emerged as a growing trend in healthcare. Essentially, healthcare practitioners, working with insurers, provide costs for services up front so patients can compare multiple care options before scheduling appointments and procedures.

Price transparency requires an individualized approach, as the intricacies of insurance coverage will likely lead to different out-of-pocket expenses for individual patients no matter how transparent you are about what you charge for common services. The American Medical Association supports price transparency and has suggested ways in which you can take part:

  • Standardize prices for common procedures or services and make them readily available to consumers.
  • Communicate information about the cost of your services to individual patients before they undergo procedures, taking into consideration their insurance status.
  • Develop resources that help patients understand the complexities of healthcare pricing and encourage them to educate themselves with that information (such as pointing them to guroo.com, which was created by the Health Care Cost Institute)

  Tip  

When scheduling a follow-up appointment, such as a cavity filling, be sure to inform the patient of the total cost and when they will be responsible for payment (for example, at the time of the procedure or after insurance reimbursement is received).

Offering a patient portal

To meet the demand for modern digital solutions as part of patients’ everyday experiences, at least 90% of healthcare providers offer patient portals. Patient portals can help provide patients with tools to play an active role in their own care and, in turn, enhance the convenience and comfort of their experience. Patients can use a portal to:

  • Access health information on appointments, meds, and labs
  • Securely message your practice
  • Request prescription refills and schedule non-urgent appointments
  • Check benefits and coverage
  • Update contact information
  • Download and complete forms

By using a patient portal, you may improve cash flow, too. Many programs allow patients to make payments and can provide billing reminders.

  Tip  

Set a standard for how quickly your practice will respond to patient communications via the patient portal. Talk with staff about how long is reasonable — say, 48 hours or two business days — and post that on the portal so patients will know when to expect a response.

Using chatbots

Patients continue to expect more access to their healthcare provider, but it may become humanly impossible for you or your staff to always be “on.” Chatbots receive and respond to messages via text, social media messaging systems, or other web-based chat windows. The level of quick-response customer service a chatbot can provide is a win-win for both patient and practice. For example, chatbots can:

  • Answer common questions regarding office hours, location(s), and phone numbers, reducing the number of calls your office handles and giving speedy information to current patients and any prospects
  • Help patients book, confirm, and reschedule appointments in connection with your practice’s calendar, potentially reducing no-shows, saving phone time for staff, and giving patients more ownership in the process
  • Provide light symptom checking based on validated medical information and collect patient data
  • Provide insights on common terms and keywords patients and potential patients are using so you can improve the website experience for them. Chatbots may also trigger human intervention to alert you to patients that need specific follow-up. As chatbot technology progresses, indications suggest the convenience it provides will only increase.

  Tip  

Explore free trials of chatbots to make sure they’re worth the investment. If you decide to stick with one vendor, costs could look like a monthly fee, a fee per user, or a fee based on volume of transactions.

Remember not to allow these features to overshadow the support your practice offers. It’s important to use these tools in a way that improves daily operations without replacing the communication and support your staff can provide.

Source: KFF Polling

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