For patients, the process of paying for healthcare services is often a stressful one. Will my insurance cover X treatment? What is the deductible and co-pay? Why do costs vary so much from one provider to the other for the same treatment? These same issues are compounded in medical travel due to the increased risk of miscommunication, misrepresentation or lack of trust stemming from distance, cultural/language differences, the variances of currencies between countries, and the frequent use of intermediaries.
To avoid having pricing and financial policies (or a lack thereof) highjack the patient experience, take the following steps:
First and foremost there needs to be transparency in pricing and the terms and conditions that apply. Patients and buyers of healthcare should know up front what treatments or procedure packages include; what the likely charges will be; and what conditions or circumstances could lead to additional expenses. For example, will airport pick-up/drop-off and transfers be included in the cost of the package? If so, how many? What if the companion needs to travel back and forth between the hospital and the hotel? Will this be covered? Are post-discharge medications included? What happens if a patient spends twice the time in surgery than was expected or had a medical complication, who will be responsible for the additional charges?
Granted, not all healthcare providers offer bundled packages (most U.S. hospitals do not – though this is slowly changing), nor is it a simple matter to predict with precision the cost of certain treatments due to the many variables involved (think cancer). Regardless of that fact, our commitment to our patients should motivate us to provide a price range or estimate based on historical data for a particular procedure or treatment and clarify what is included or excluded from their course of treatment. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to provide medical travelers with a realistic assessment of potential costs, while identifying those scenarios that could lead to additional charges.
Consider the payment process from the medical traveler’s perspective
Take a look at your current financial policies. Are they aligned with the needs of medical travelers or were they developed for local patients? If it is the latter, you may need to make some adjustments to reduce the likelihood of negative situations occurring.
The best way to gauge the impact of your financial policies on the medical traveler experience is to solicit candid feedback from your patients. Ask questions, review past patient satisfaction scores and scour your comment boxes. Pay attention to any comments or complaints regarding pricing, billing or the payment process. This is a quick and effective way to identify problem areas or gaps in your financial processes and will give everyone in your organization a broader perspective of what is actually happening rather than what they think is happening.
Once you identify problem areas, ask yourself what you can do differently to make the process more convenient or understandable for medical travelers. Perhaps the data will lead you to create bundled packages or include or remove certain services or materials. More often than not, you will find that the most important thing you need to do is improve your communication skills.
Communication and education
To ensure the expectations of medical travelers are aligned with reality, it is important to communicate and educate patients about your financial policies, particularly through your emails, website, brochures and phone conversations. Never assume that the patient knows something unless you have sent the information in writing and confirmed that the patient has received it and understands it. For example:
• Cancellation and refund policies should be communicated across different channels such as your website, social media channels and email correspondence.
• Payment options should be clearly explained and patients should be made aware of instances where a transaction could generate charges apart from those billed by the provider (e.g. credit card transactions or traveler’s checks).
• Specify how long quoted pricing is valid.
• Communicate to medical travelers in advance what your policy is with regards to extra expenses from medical complications or longer hospital stays.
• Be clear about the different payment options available. Also be sure to provide an explanation or instructions for each payment method. For example: which credit cards are accepted, bank wiring instructions, and the fact that there may be restrictions on the amount of cash you can bring in or take out of the country.
• If patients are paying by credit card, encourage them to inform their bank before they travel. Also let your patients know that some banks charge fees for overseas credit card charges.
• Communicate your organization’s policy regarding nonpayment in advance (e.g., you enlist a collection agency’s help after three months of nonpayment).
Frequent communication with patients will help clear up any misconceptions about the payment process and will reduce the number of problems that turn into fires that need to be extinguished.
Remember, medical travel can be intimidating for patients. There are travel details to be arranged in the midst of managing an illness or medical condition. Patients are often not familiar with the new environment and may feel disoriented and confused. They are often confronted by language barriers and cultural differences that can lead to misunderstandings. The last thing medical travelers want to endure is a complex payment process or unclear terms and conditions. By being transparent about your pricing, adjusting your financial policies to fit the needs of traveling patients and keeping patients updated and well-informed, you will be improving a very important part of the medical travel experience.