Rave Reviews About Online Billing? How Memorial Hermann Solved a Patient Pain Point
// By Jane Weber Brubaker //
“The easiest bill to understand and pay I’ve ever seen…”
“Awesome way to pay—prompt and efficient…”
“Very easy to use…”
These are just a few examples from the 2,000+ comments Memorial Hermann has collected since implementing an online payment solution from Simplee. “We understand that paying a healthcare bill isn’t always pleasant, that healthcare is an expensive and important part of people’s lives,” says Kelly McCormick, Director of Web Strategy & Digital Marketing at Memorial Hermann. “So what we’re trying to do is make it as painless as it can be.”
About Memorial Hermann
Memorial Hermann is the largest not-for-profit health system in southeast Texas, with 14 hospitals, including a Level I trauma center that is part of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. The medical center is the primary teaching hospital for UTHealth, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School.
Simplee began as a solution to help consumers organize their medical expenses. In 2012, a hospital in California approached the company to help solve a problem with online billing. “They thought patients were deeply dissatisfied with their billing experience,” says John Adractas, Chief Marketing and Growth Officer at Simplee. Recognizing that this was a widespread problem in healthcare, the company shifted its business to focus exclusively on serving hospitals and health systems in need of a consumer-friendly online billing solution.
Less than 10 percent of patients pay their bills online, according to Adractas. “If you look outside of healthcare, what you find is that the amount of people paying digitally is 50 percent,” he says. “[Patients] don’t understand the information they receive [in bills] because it’s in codes that, if you’re not a healthcare expert, you don’t know how to process it.”
Memorial Hermann began working with Simplee in late 2014. The organization’s financial team championed Simplee’s online billing solution. Three C-level executives, including the chief information and marketing officer, chief revenue officer, and chief financial officer, were involved in evaluating and choosing the solution. The new online billing process has improved revenue cycle metrics such as collections, cost per payment, and self-service payments.
But it has also had a major impact on marketing. “Although our financial folks are the ones who selected Simplee, we thought it was a great opportunity for us to improve part of the patient experience that’s really important to patient satisfaction,” says McCormick, who is responsible for both digital patient acquisition and patient engagement.
Patient dissatisfaction with medical billing is high, and the people who are the sickest are the least satisfied. Unhappiness with the billing experience can damage a patient’s view of the hospital overall.
Hospitals are slowly recognizing the negative impact of poor online billing, according to Adractas. “What [health systems] will often say is that they offer online billing and the patients don’t use it,” says Adractas. “It may mean that they didn’t offer something that was a good version of it.”
A before-and-after example of a hospital’s online bill illustrates how Simplee simplified the look and feel of the bill for consumers:
“They really carefully thought about how the bill should look, and how to explain the cost to the patient,” says McCormick. “They made it really easy to help the patient get from paper to the Internet, and once they are on the Internet, they made it very simple for the patient to identify themselves, and not only pay their bill, but set up payment plans if needed.”
The payment plan option has been a home run for patients as well as the organization. “We’re trying to recognize that there are psychological barriers when it comes to paying bills and that when confronted by an embarrassing phone call with a customer service representative, many patients may go into denial,” says McCormick. “But when you’re in the privacy of your own home, it makes it a lot simpler to complete that transaction.”
Since Memorial Hermann implemented Simplee, it has seen significant improvements in key financial metrics:
- 17 percent improvement in total collections
- 24 percent decrease in cost per payment
- 57 percent increase in self-service payments
“We’ve had better on-time payment and fewer payments going into bad debt because people were able to pay on their own terms,” says McCormick.
Unexpectedly, the Simplee solution has been a boon to Memorial Hermann’s marketing department, through the addition of the Net Promoter question at the end of the transaction: How likely is it that you would recommend [Memorial Hermann] to a friend or colleague? “We can get a gauge whether or not patients are satisfied with their experience with a metric that is comparable across industries, and across competitors inside our industry,” says McCormick. The comments at the beginning of this article were generated through the Net Promoter survey.
A second win for the marketing department was the addition of a feed from Simplee to Memorial Hermann’s CRM system, when users opt in to receive marketing messages during their transactions. “We created this flow to improve the patient’s financial experience, but what was built in from the beginning was not just to solve the revenue cycle challenge,” says Adractas. “It became a means of getting people to opt in and talk to the hospital from a marketing perspective.” Simplee is now the number-two source of opt-in emails at Memorial Hermann (online scheduling is the number-one source).
Improving patient engagement is a goal shared by all health systems as they evolve toward population health. Improving a pain point like online billing has helped to build trust at Memorial Hermann. “We’re improving how customers can do business with Memorial Hermann online,” says McCormick. “Paying your bill online, scheduling your appointment online, accessing your health records, getting all of your health information in one place, personalized Web experiences, contextually relevant and timely emails—all these things improve patient satisfaction and the likelihood of [patients] coming back to us.”
Jane Weber Brubaker is Editor of eHealthcare Strategy & Trends.