What Healthcare Can Learn From My Roofer
By Phelps Jackson
Phelps Jackson is CEO of Sirono of Berkeley, CA.
I had a leaky roof over my kitchen. In the dry season, it wasn’t a problem, but it was something I needed to take care of. I kept putting off the repairs because I dreaded the hassle of bids, estimates, and surprise expenses.
When the rainy season finally came, I started using my pots more for catching drips than for cooking. I had to do something. I looked online for the highest-rated roofing company in my area, got an estimate for repairs, and gave the go-ahead for the work.
About 30 minutes into the job, I got a call from the roofer. The wood beneath the shingles was ruined. It would add $1,200 to the repairs. When I asked why that cost wasn’t included in the initial estimate, he politely reminded me that he had warned about the possibility of additional costs.
When I asked why the price was so high, what I got was modern, high-quality customer service: on-the-spot pictures of the rotten sheathing, an email with the price breakdown, a follow-up phone call to see if I had any billing questions, and more pictures of progress as the repairs went on. Actual pictures!
In the end, I was comfortable paying the higher cost because I understood the real value of the service. Best of all, he kept me well informed throughout the whole process even though I was 1,000 miles away on a business trip.
So, if a guy standing on top of my house can offer omni-channel customer service and high-level billing support, why can’t a multimillion-dollar hospital with teams of representatives do the same?
That’s exactly what frustrated patients ask themselves every day. They don’t care about the complexity of medical claim processes. They just want to know how much they will owe and why. The reality is that 61 percent of patients find themselves surprised by out-of-pocket expenses because they were never told that pre-service estimates aren’t 100 percent accurate or more likely didn’t get an estimate in the first place.
In contrast to the customer billing support I was offered, what if three months after the repair I had gotten a roofing bill $1,200 higher than the estimate? I would have assumed that I was being ripped off, disputed the charges, and most likely left negative online reviews so others could avoid a similar experience.
It’s no different when patients receive unanticipated escalated medical bills, which is so often the case. They become suspicious of the additional charges, question their own financial liability, and delay payment or refuse to pay altogether. Even if patients are happy with their medical care and would be willing to accept additional fees, they probably assume that there was an error.
Proactive outreach to explain balance changes shows patients that they are valued and respected. It clarifies the quality of the care received, expedites payment, and inspires customer loyalty. Fifty-seven percent of patients say their medical bills are confusing.
Improving the patient billing experience is a must for every hospital. Utilizing the patient’s preferred methods of communication makes the process easier and far more patient-centered. In healthcare, as in every other industry, consumers want to interact with businesses the way they prefer, whether it is online, email, text, phone, or through the mail.
The ease of online shopping and service-oriented local businesses have raised customer service expectations and the average hospital doesn’t come close. As patient payments become increasingly critical to the revenue cycle, smart health systems will adapt and prosper. Those who don’t—won’t.