July 15, 2020

How to Excel at Customer Service During a Pandemic and Beyond

Spencer Thielmann

We can all agree a patient’s financial and emotional health is as essential part of overall wellbeing.

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the lives of individuals across the country it is more important now than ever on our patients’ financial experience. Once care is complete, patients face the financial realities and complexities that likely come on the heels of an incredibly stressful and emotionally draining period. You can facilitate their holistic recovery by ensuring your team is prepared to partner with them in an informed, compassionate, and thoughtful way.

  • A Spotlight on Your Financial Assistance Team – Make sure your financial assistance staff are well-versed in your internal policies and options, as well as how to find and apply for other funding sources. Record high unemployment numbers means that your patients with financial needs are increasing, with many uneducated on their options.  Your team needs to be able to walk through application processes for institutional funding, Medicaid programs, and other potential programs. All your policies should be reviewed and updated to account for changes precipitated by COVID-19; this may include temporary and permanent changes. Examples include reduced documentation required for program approvals, new qualification thresholds, or presumptive eligibility. You may want to consider re-verifying insurance eligibility more frequently during this time of uncertainty and proactively ask patients if they have experienced changes to their financial situation. It is especially critical that front-end and back-end team members use common tools, language, and data sources to ensure that the patient experience is consistent and clear. If you have concerns with either your internal team or your vendor partners, take a look at our approach to compassionate collections.
  • Statements and Payment Plans– Ensure your communications include an acknowledgement of the current fiscal challenges your patients may face. A message at the top of a statement with a checkbox for financial assistance needs can make a difference. Review your statement cycles and dunning messages to ensure they are appropriate for a mid and post COVID environment. Are your payment plan terms and guidelines up to date? If you are considering extending payment term durations, disseminate information to all front-end and back-end financial staff. You may need to make system adjustments to allow any increased payment periods or reduced minimum payment amounts. Your customer service team should closely monitor existing payments plans in good standing and reach out quickly to discuss should a delinquency appear.
  • Vendor Relationship Management– As you work to partner with your patient population set clear expectations with early-out and collections vendors when it comes to patient communications. Not all vendors are created equal-some already have a customer-oriented approach built into their culture and processes while others may struggle to strike the right tone. Ensure your vendors are aware of any changes you make to policies that impact them and monitor feedback closely along with collection rates.
  • Financing Program Partners– Do not feel like you need to weather the storm alone when it comes to helping your patients through this difficult time. If you have not already, consider working with or referring patients to a financing company that can help them cover healthcare costs. If your organization is considering funding internal patient financing, there are options within some revenue cycle systems that allow you to specify interest charge rates and manage those amounts due within your existing accounts receivable.
  • Know Your Patients’ Communication Preferences– You can reach your patients by a combination of telephone, patient portal, mail, text message, and/or email. While so many Americans are juggling financial commitments and added stressors it is crucial that you identify the best way to connect with your patients. One size does not fit all, some will only want to use a patient portal while others will look for more traditional methods of communication. If your current communication tools cannot accommodate the frequency and flexibility required in today’s environment, work with your IT partners to evaluate other options. There are numerous cost-effective vendors in this space, and some qualify for federal grant money. Work collaboratively across your organization to review and document patient communication preferences for different needs. Ask for the information in a way that lets the patient know you are there to support them, “I want to make sure we are reaching out according to your preferences. How would you prefer to receive communications from our team related to your financial needs?” Check out our Price Transparency blog for information on more patient friendly communication that you’ll need to be prepared for.
  • Use a Patient Portal solution – Patients want to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to their financial decisions and the self-service options available in tools like MyChart facilitate just that. You can expedite payments, reduce workload for your teams, and increase patient satisfaction by encouraging use of patient-driven actions around paperless billing, online bill-pay, payment plans, financial assistance, and estimates. If your health system or facility is not taking advantage of these tools, then you are falling behind the competition.

We appreciate all the work you and your teams do to care for patients when they receive care and long after they leave your facility. We will continue to publish relevant content with the goal of helping you navigate the challenges you face now and the opportunities the future will bring. For more projects to improve your bottom line look through our Wilshire Wins on our website. If you have questions, please contact Spencer Thielmann at The Wilshire Group – s.thielmann@thewilshiregroup.net. Whether or not you are a current client, we have experts available to assist your team with any Revenue Cycle needs and questions you may have.


Spencer Thielmann

Vice President, Operations

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