Massachusetts Medical Society: Your Patients and Your Vendors: Keeping the Experience Positive

Your Patients and Your Vendors: Keeping the Experience Positive

Candid Communication is Key


Patient experience, as defined by the Beryl Institute, is the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization’s culture, that influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care. It is easy to consider the patient experience as those instances where the patient directly interacts with a physician, nurses and other staffers. But what about all the other, less direct, interactions patients have — including those with your third-party vendors?

Recently, I spoke with a practice on the topic of improving its patient experience scores. The practice, about a year ago, started to be concerned about timely collections of the patient-owed components of their accounts. Their accounts receivable was on the rise and they decided to engage a collection agency to serve as an extension of the practice’s billing function.

After three months, there had been no improvement in the collection of past due balances and the practice started to get a lot of calls from confused patients, some of whom were upset and threatening to seek care elsewhere.

After some investigation, the practice found out that the process of collecting past due balances was not patient friendly; the company sent one letter and then started with collections-based phone calls and voice mails. These phone calls and voice mails provided no information on what the “collection” call was related to; the messaging was interpreted as threatening and accusatory and the patients were linking these negative interactions back to the practice.

Furthermore, patients reported that they were being treated rudely and told that key information, such as which physician and what service they owed a balance for, would not be provided unless they gave substantial personal information. Many patients weren’t comfortable sharing medical information (or general personal information). This situation negatively impacted the patient experiences for this practice.

It is important to note that collection agencies can be extremely helpful in reducing the uncollected patient owed components of aging accounts receivable, and most are reputable and professional organizations. But in this case, the process and messaging were faulty.

While just one specific story is highlighted here, general examples can also be seen in many other vendor-patient interactions. Consider the vendors that your practice engages to serve as an extension of your core business processes. Do you use a billing vendor? Do you use a scheduling service? What other agencies do you contract with?

Regardless of the scenario, when engaging external vendors who may directly interact with your patients there are a few key considerations to make sure that the services provided do not negatively impact your patient experience scores:

  • Meet with your vendors routinely. Share feedback from your patients candidly. If you are unhappy with a vendor practice, point it out and suggest a solution. If you like something they are doing, let them know and have it be a routine practice for interacting with your patients.
  • Understand the process.Understand what the vendor is doing, what methods they are employing and with what frequency they are using them. Request a process flow and make suggestions if you would like something handled differently.
  • Understand the messaging. Put the time and effort in to understand the scripting that will be used and how information will be communicated with your patients, suggest edits, and make sure you are comfortable with the messaging approach.
  • Be sure your vendors are nice. One does not have to be confrontational to get the job done. Make sure that your vendors are addressing the goal in a pleasant manner and that any scripted text is presenting things in a reasonable manner. In the example above slight script changes made the dialogue less confrontational.
  • Be sure to include a feedback loop in the process.Consider implementing a feedback loop so that if the vendor feels that a patient is not responding adequately, there is a step that provides that feedback to the practice. Allowing the practice to engage or intervene in the communication with the patient can help in creating an overall positive outcome.
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