Patients Are Losing Patience Over Time and Medical Bills

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

First published 6/14/11 on Health Populi

When we use the phrase, “patient-physician communication,” we usually think about what goes on in the inner sanctum of the doctor’s office: in the exam room at the point-of-diagnosis, -care and -prescribing. There’s another form of communication that’s frustrating to both sides of the doctor-patient dialogue: phone calls. Patients are hanging up after long hold times, frustratingly waiting for important information about clinical care, insurance questions, and appointment schedule, according to a survey from Intuit.

“Patients are losing patience,” Intuit found. Earlier this year, Intuit learned a lot about what U.S. patients are looking for from their doctors: more self-service options, more online access, and more self-health care tools in patient portals. Furthermore, many patients would consider leaving their current physician’s practice if online options aren’t offered by their doctors, which I wrote about in Health Populi on March 9, 2011.

Now, Intuit says that nearly all doctors (95%) want patients to complete medical and registration forms online before people come for their appointments. Furthermore, 8 in 10 patients like this idea, too.

That’s one way to begin streamlining patient-physician administrative processes. But there’s a long way to go down that path, which consumes both labor costs in terms of office staff and time costs for patients. About one-half of physicians say their practices run 30 to 60 minutes behind schedule; thus, over 50% of doctors say patients complain about spending too much time in the waiting room. 1 in 3 providers say staff spends at least 3 hours a day trying to reach patients for follow-up. 93% of physician offices say their staff must remind patients more than once before patients pay their bills. And, 72% of physicians say patients complain about having to fill out the same forms over and over.

In addition to time costs, there’s the actual financial bill for services provided which causes patients grief. Nearly all providers believe their bill are clear. However, 1 in 3 patients say they’re not sure the amount they’re asked to pay is correct. Two-thirds of physicians report it takes them up to two months to receive payments after sending a bill. 84% of doctors say that up to 1 in 4 patients has let a medical bill go past-due or on to a collection agency.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Intuit’s in the business of consumer-facing portals for health communication and finance, so they have a stake in solving the challenges highlighted in this survey. Their internal study with 100 Intuit Health clients shows that providers’ practices whose patients use these portals enjoy improved productivity and efficiency in terms of reduced staff time dealing with routine tasks like calling patients with follow-up information and reminders. Most important to doctors is their ability to get paid on-time with fewer bills going to collection agencies. And, patients’ ability to schedule appointments and request Rx refills goes a long way toward increasing patient satisfaction.

But back to more clinical online transactions, because that’s what participatory health requires. See the chart, illustrating the 3 in 4 patients want online access with their doctors. This cross gender lines and age cohorts. The demand for online services is being met by other stakeholders in the citizen’s personal life ecosystem. Now people want that access and self-service choice from their health providers. As patient engagement gets incorporated into electronic health records and more broadly into physician office workflow, peoples’ health (and doctors’ patient satisfaction report cards) will benefit.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn is a health economist writing at Health Populi.

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