The trusted source for
healthcare information and
Self Regional adopts patient-friendly billing
Fifth-grade reading level accessible to all
Self Regional Healthcare in Greenwood, SC, decided it needed to do something about its billing statements. In response to consumer feedback and a year of planning, the hospital went live on July 21 with its "more friendly" billing system.
Melanie Parks, director of patient financial services, says the initiative began with a look at patient complaints, reasons why patients were calling with questions about their statements, and at industry changes.
"Patients would even get explanation of benefits from their insurance companies that they didn't understand so they would call us," she says. "We were trying to think of ways that would eliminate frustration and eliminate the need for the patient to call us in the first place."
Best practices for user-friendly billing
A team was assembled to look at what other hospitals were doing and to research sources including the Healthcare Financial Management Association, Hospital & Health Networks, Press Ganey, and the American Hospital Association for best practices.
Parks says the team decided to include these practices with the revamped statements:
"One thing we did," Parks says, "was to develop a legend of key terms on the back to define things such as deductibles, co-insurance, co-pay in laymen's terms so that the average person could easily understand those things."
The legend also provides definitions for:
Guarantor billing, in which families with multiple accounts at the hospital can receive one bill for the entire family, was added in response to patient complaints about getting too much paper in the mail.
The team also determined that a fifth-grade reading level would make the information more accessible and set out to improve the overall appearance to make the bill more "attractive to look at."
Once a statement was created to incorporate the changes, it underwent internal review by a team including several departments within the hospital oncology, medical social work, cardiac rehab, nursing, housekeeping, and a physician representative. Members of the hospital's board of visitors, which includes community representatives and former patients, also evaluated the new statements.
Parks says most responses centered around verbiage. For example, the review team reported confusion about the term "pending insurance" so the bill was altered to read "awaiting insurance payment."
The hospital plans to add online billing options by the beginning of 2009. Patients will be able to go online and review their accounts, obtain their balances, make payments, and determine if insurance will cover services.