As the old adage goes, “the customer is king.” Traditionally, it’s a statement applied to business, mainly the service industry. But, as radiology has become increasingly commoditized, it’s a motto that is also becoming more applicable to your daily work.
That means that you’re not only required to provide a high level of quality patient care, but you’re also expected to do so in a way that caters to your patient’s preferences and needs. Reaching this goal can be challenging, but if you want to remain competitive, capturing as many reimbursement dollars as you can, industry leaders say you should find a way to implement a patient-driven work model.
Related article: Insurance Coverage for Prostate MRIs Overly Restrictive
“It’s important because patients are being pushed by insurance companies to shop around. As they do that, they’re learning where they can get cheaper services,” says Sandy Coffta, vice president for client services at Healthcare Administrative Partners. “Practices need to make sure they’re keeping up and offering not only the right prices, but other improvements that matter to patients.”
The question, though, is how to do it effectively. As it turns out, there are several straight-forward tactics you can employ to keep you a top choice among patients.
As Coffta says, price is often the most important aspect of choosing a radiology practice for many patients. But, competing on price doesn’t mean you can simply advertise your fees for an MRI or CT on a billboard. You should offer patients information within the context of their insurance coverage, working closely with insurance companies to determine what patients’ differing financial responsibilities will be.
“It’s helpful to know your payer representatives, particularly for your top three, and check in with them periodically,” she says. “They can tell you where you are compared to your peers, what you need to know, and if there are any changes coming you need to be aware of.”
Give your patients a reference sheet that outlines what tier coverage you fall into for most insurance companies. At a glance, they will know approximately what their final bill will be.
Coffta also recommends searching insurance payer websites to gather information about your competitor’s prices, as well. If that data reveals your pricing is to high, you can negotiate with the payer to restructure your reimbursement and lower your fees. Remember, attracting more patient volume could mean lowering your reimbursement, so do the math on what will work best for your bottom line before making any changes.
There’s more financial service to provide, though, after you’ve won a patient’s business.
Consider hiring someone to talk with patients who might have more significant financial responsibilities in paying for your rendered services, Coffta says. He or she can give patients more precise explanations about their insurance benefits, their cost estimate, and whether they’ve met their deductible. Additionally, this staffer can help patients establish realistic payment plans, if necessary.
Having these conversations early can help you side-step any patient frustrations.
“Patients are far more receptive and happier with your office if they’ve had a thorough discussion of the finances before having any service completed,” she says. “Surprise bills aren’t your friend.”
See your patients
Historically, radiologists have provided care from the reading room. But, as healthcare moves from a volume-to-value format, making yourself available to talk with patients about their studies will bolster their appreciation for what you do.
“For so long, we’ve abdicated the responsibility of talking with our patients to our technologists or the ordering physicians,” says Alexander Towbin, MD, chair of radiology informatics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “It might not be feasible to talk with all our patients, but there are good instances where we should—particularly in cases where we have difficult news to deliver.”
In fact, he says, his office created a protocol where radiologists deliver these types of results (such as a new cancer or a treatment plan change) and then immediately contact the patient’s oncologist or other provider to launch a discussion of next steps.
Simplify your report
While the ordering physician is the ultimate customer for your final report, a growing number of patients want access to it. Creating a more patient-friendly report could earn you repeat business because patients will know you explain your work, says Towbin, who has written about consumer-driven radiology and discussed the topic at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting.
Related article: Goodbye Patients; Hello Consumers
Doing it well is tricky, though, he says. Reports include medical terms that carry specific meanings that directly impact downstream care. Be careful you don’t change your implications when you write a patient-accessible report. Flesh out the report by including key images with arrows that point to specific findings and adding hyperlinks in the text to take patients to medical definitions and detailed explanations of syndromes or abnormalities, he says. It all provides context to help patients understand the results.
Augment your online presence
Make your website as informational and patient-friendly as possible, Coffta says. Include a clearly-labeled section on which insurance plans you accept, possibly posting the reference sheet with your detailed tier-coverage here.