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Patient and family advisory committees give valuable input at many hospitals. Often, though, the focus is on clinical processes more so than the revenue cycle, even though both matter to patients and families.
“The patient financial experience can make or break the way they feel about their clinical experience,” explains Jennifer Dyrseth, MSITAM, CHAM, CHAA, CAC, patient financial services supervisor at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles, WA.
Previously, Dyrseth worked at an organization with a productive patient and family advisory committee. “I felt that it made me a more patient-centered leader,” Dyrseth says.
When she found out Olympic Medical Center did not have a similar committee in place, Dyrseth contacted the patient experience team to see if she could help start one. “I was eager to get the ball rolling,” she shares.
Today, revenue cycle leaders regularly consult the hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Council. “Both do important work,” Dyrseth observes. “Together, they can make positive changes for patients.” Here, Dyrseth offers some practices that can help revenue cycle departments get the most out of the committee’s input:
• Ask the committee for feedback on something specific. This is the only way to ensure attention is paid to a particular revenue cycle issue.
“A lot of these committees have a process where managers can fill out a form to request the committee review a certain topic,” Dyrseth explains.
These committees have a chair and possibly co-chairs to facilitate meetings. “Reaching out to them is another, potentially easier way to get their attention,” Dyrseth says.
• Ask for a seat on the committee. Just because there is not a seat immediately available does not mean one cannot attend a meeting or two to show interest.
“Asking to sit in on meetings can help to make you next in line when one becomes available,” Dyrseth suggests.
• Listen to feedback with an open mind. “It’s easy to start to put on blinders where you may notice something that’s not patient-friendly,” Dyrseth says. Her advice is to take the blinders off and “see the patient experience as if it were the first time.”
It is not always possible to do exactly what the committee recommends. For example, they may express frustration with someone asking for the same information repeatedly. “Eliminating the process entirely is unrealistic,” Dyrseth laments.
However, there can be a middle ground, with staff explaining why it happens. Telling the patient the registration process will only take about two minutes is another way to reduce frustration. “This is both patient-centered and beneficial to the organization,” Dyrseth says.
Recently, the hospital’s central access department gave a presentation on the clinic registration process at a committee meeting. Members suggested telling patients that some of the information collected is required by federal guidelines, or because it is needed to make sure they are the right patient.
Revenue cycle leaders may receive feedback that sounds negative and overwhelming, that patients do not like their billing statements, that it takes too long to schedule a visit, or that they do not understand the importance of revenue cycle in the first place. Instead of taking a defensive stance, remember that this is a valid perspective, Dyrseth recommends: “Be appreciative of the time committee members are taking to review the process.”
• Use a show-and-tell method. Revenue cycle leaders will receive the best feedback only if the committee really understands the entire registration process. “In addition to telling them about the process, showing them a mock registration will help them get the feel of it,” Dyrseth says.
Likewise, instead of just verbally describing the financial assistance process, handing the committee an actual application is better, according to Dyrseth. “Ask the committee to go through it with you,” she advises.
Dyrseth attended a meeting during which the council reviewed the financial assistance application the hospital used. Members suggested using simpler language and shortening it. “They wanted to make it easier to understand and less tedious,” Dyrseth says.
It is a mistake to sugarcoat revenue cycle processes. If a form includes confusing terminology, or a question usually is asked multiple times, it is important for the committee to hear about it. “We don’t want to hide anything from our council,” Dyrseth stresses. “The more they understand the processes, the better feedback they can provide.”