BRUCE HAUPT

 
Healthcare organizations should be doubling down on patient retention, or keeping patients loyal to their health system, now more than ever. During the last few years, many providers have likely experienced higher inpatient volumes from newly insured Americans taking advantage of healthcare services for the first time; but as inpatient volumes stabilize—and perhaps even trend downward—healthcare organizations must consider ways to encourage patients to return to their system when they need care. Offering and promoting long-term financing to help patients pay their cost of care is a proven way to capture consumers, creating satisfaction and loyalty, according to the 3rd annual Healthcare Consumerism study from ClearBalance®.

ClearBalance has partnered with hospitals and health systems nationwide since 1992, providing consumer-centric affordable care while improving net recovery of patient pay and overall financial performance. The Healthcare Consumerism study measures patients’ loyalty and satisfaction with the program, along with their perception of the healthcare organizations that provide long-term financing and their attitude about healthcare costs in general. These are the results:

More than 4,000 patients from ClearBalance healthcare provider partners completed the survey. Healthcare cost was an undeniable concern—a recurring pattern with this study. Ninety-two percent of respondents say healthcare is a big-ticket expense that requires long-term financing of 12 months or more. Eighty-one percent say cost is a factor when selecting a physician, and 84 percent say the same when choosing a healthcare provider—both slight increases from last year’s percentages of 79 and 81, respectively.

Thirty-two percent of this year’s survey respondents say they would delay care if a loan program wasn’t made available to them, and 73 percent are more likely to ask about their cost of care up front. The availability of a loan program is critical in their decision-making process.

Almost all (97 percent) survey respondents say that a healthcare provider offering the ClearBalance program provides a community benefit. Ninety percent will likely return to a healthcare provider that offers the loan program, and 88 percent say they will likely recommend the healthcare provider to friends and family.

“Satisfaction and loyalty ratings consistently in the 90th percentile is a strong indicator the ClearBalance offering is a strategic asset for healthcare organizations,” said Cynthia Porter, president of the healthcare market research firm Porter Research, which conducted the Healthcare Consumerism study again this year. “The above average response rate we see for this survey year-over-year demonstrates a committed following. This is an engaged consumer population willing to convey their continued positive perceptions of the ClearBalance program.”

Slightly more than half of survey respondents report their annual insurance deductible to be between $1,001 and $3,000. Seventy-two percent depend on their employer-provided insurance to help cover medical costs. No matter the cost, a loan program helps to fill the gap for out-of-pocket expenses, especially when they’re unexpected.

“Consumers expect quite a bit from hospitals for their clinical and financial needs,” said Marilyn Koczan, Senior Vice President of Revenue Cycle Operations at Hackensack Meridian Health. “You can really spoil a great clinical experience when you present the patient with a large bill. At least the younger generations today understand they have a financial obligation and want to pay their bills. Being able to offer the ClearBalance program creates a very positive experience for the patient.”

“I really appreciate the service that ClearBalance provides,” said a survey respondent. “Even with stable employment and a health savings account, the cost of maternity care blew us out of the water.”

Study findings are reinforced by repeat program use. Payment plan balances have increased from an average of $1,500 in 2014 to $1,660 in 2016, and the average requested repayment time frame is now about 24 months versus 18 months three years ago. While some of these increases relate to higher patient pay balances, much of this can be attributed to patients becoming captured (repeat) customers, of healthcare organizations. Patients are adding and consolidating new balances not only for themselves, but also for their spouse and dependents as a matter of convenience.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback in this year’s survey responses proves that there is a high degree of loyalty and satisfaction with the ClearBalance program and the services it provides. This goodwill also extends to healthcare providers that offer the ClearBalance program.

ClearBalance’s attention and focus to managing only healthcare-related accounts is evident in continued high performance and satisfaction scores, as noted in this year’s survey findings. Of the survey respondents who have called the ClearBalance Patient Experience Center to ask questions about their account, 95 percent were very satisfied with the customer service they received.

The ClearBalance online patient portal enables patients to check their account balance, make a payment or update their information at their convenience. Eighty-eight percent of respondents, a three percent increase from last year’s results, utilize this service to keep their healthcare financing in order.

“I am a financial counselor at a local hospital. I meet with patients daily to set up payment arrangements. I am thankful for ClearBalance so I didn’t have to use my credit card,” said a survey respondent.

The ClearBalance program enables patients to easily pay their medical costs and engenders loyalty, positioning the individual health systems ClearBalance partners with as the care location of choice in their community. The need for patient financing is there, and ClearBalance has been partnering with health systems nationwide to fill that need for 25 years.

 
Bruce is responsible for the corporate direction, strategy and overall business performance of ClearBalance®, which has provided leading-edge patient pay solutions for 25 years. Bruce has been in the healthcare and IT arenas for most of his career. He can be reached at 858-200-9200 or bhaupt@clearbalance.org.