If there's one word that can sum up the feelings of a healthcare consumer with more questions than answers, it's confused. Sifting through mountains of bills, invoices and statements from both their insurance and healthcare provider can turn paying for the most basic of office visits into a frustrating uphill battle. When faced with tackling this daunting task, many turn their financial focus to their care as it's happening, questioning each judgment call, test or charge with a cautious eye. Here's how to work with the patient type we’ll call the Line Item Negotiator to ensure successful communication and treatment:
Explanations: Beyond than the Current Step
It's difficult to balance important information with succinct delivery, but it's a skill every healthcare provider should master. Give the Line Item Negotiator at least a basic understanding of why certain tests are being performed, and what they should expect in the next step, depending on results. Setting expectations not only lessens the chance of resistance when the time comes, it empowers this particular healthcare consumer to offer objections or ask for alternatives at the appropriate juncture in their care. Requesting generic medications or opting out of a test that isn't strictly necessary ensures that the patient always feels in control of both their medical care and the associated bill. The Line Item Negotiator should also be briefed, or at least given literature, on payment options.
Be Prepared to Justify (or Correct!)
Your patient looks to you to take the lead on their healthcare; if you can't adequately explain why a test is necessary, don't expect them to believe it is. If an alternate test isn't as accurate, have data or facts on hand to refer to when encouraging a reluctant patient to reconsider. Believing in your care means being willing to support it through explanation and demonstration, and a modern healthcare consumer can detect insincerity as close as the nearest review site. When it comes to billing, the threshold for potential errors rises considerably - during care, mistakes tend to be obvious, but invoices after the fact can carry a typo or incorrect line item for months or even years. Don't be afraid to look over your patient's bill with them and research any discrepancies or miscalculations they point out; Lacie Glover of US News and World Report notes that between 50% and 80% of medical bills have accidental overcharges of some variety. Millennials’ characteristic drive to save—most notable in their automatic tendency to search online for better deals before buying anything—will have them suss these out, more often than not.
Brace Yourself for a Different Patient
Sitting passively on the exam table, waiting for orders? Not the order of the day for the Line Item Negotiator. In the exam room, these patients may ask for discounts on care and medications and expect to have all generics or alternatives presented to them as a matter of course. In addition, be aware that many Millennial patients also expect access to their medical records and x-rays online, according to Bertha Coombs of CNBC. If your practice isn't already using a cloud-based customer-facing dashboard for digital file storage, it's a good time to consider adding it and brushing up on its capabilities.
The Line Item Negotiator doesn't want to cause headaches, they're just trying to prevent their own as they navigate medical bills and determine what's truly necessary for their healthcare needs. The key to a happy healthcare consumer is an informed one, and sometimes that means a little guidance to give them the research tools they need. The next time a patient asks you "what about..." as they're holding their bill, engage them with understanding, transparency and knowledge to diffuse tension before it has a chance to manifest.