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Empowering patients in their health care: Q&A with Cerner’s Teri Meintel

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

The management of patient access is critical to making sure that patients can get the care they need when, and where, they need it. In many cases, patient satisfaction is attributed to the patient access professionals who handle scheduling, registration, patient finance, admission, guest relations and more for health care facilities.

Terry Meintel, principal financial alignment executive at Cerner, joined a recent episode of our “Perspectives on Health and Tech” podcast to discuss the importance of patient access and the impact it has on delivering and receiving health care. Read highlights from the conversation below, and listen to the full episode here.

Patient access is the center of the patient experience

What is patient access, and why is it important to health care?

Teri: Patient access is often referred to as the center of the whole patient experience. It touches every single patient and their families. People need to know they are in the right place at the right time for the right care with the right financial information. Patient access helps patients exhale as they begin their care journey. By the time they complete the registration process, patients should be focused only on their care.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you see when it comes to patient access, and what are some strategies that organizations can use to combat these challenges?

Health care is, and always will be, changing. How we communicate these changes is vital to the patient experience. For example, a patient access professional might register 20 to 40 people a day and will be asked all types of questions, often about subjects that are outside of their area of expertise. So, organizations must be devoted to investing time and resources into the education of these associates on a consistent basis. Any changes in processes, compliance or insurance can lead to disruption and anxiety for patients. We must avoid this by making sure that patient access teams have the knowledge they need to effectively communicate with patients.

Navigating financial roadblocks to care

Why is it important for health care organizations to determine, in real-time, which patients are able to pay and which patients might qualify for financial assistance?

Every day, patients are faced with higher health care costs, so it is critical that they know what they owe. But, we're finding that we need to do more to empower our patients. We need to take the extra time, which really isn't much time at all, to educate them on their benefits. For example, financial clearance for an MRI requires an authorization, part of the deductible and a copay. While having a conversation about finances with the patient is extremely important in this scenario, we also have to be ready to give the patient options and expand on what other benefits they have. This helps patients make wise choices about their health care and reduces their stress and anxiety.

What impact does patient access have on a health care organization’s bottom line?

It’s important to get the financial information correct and to do so before the date of service. Assumptions should never be made about the financial clearance of patients. Doing so could have a trickle-down effect that impacts patient care and the bottom line for our hospitals. The patient access team has a responsibility to empower patients with information so that they can make the best decisions about their health and care. In fact, patients often rely on the expertise of those in the patient access department to obtain and understand information about their health care.

Technology will take patient access to the next level

How can technology be used to improve patient access?

We have to change with technology, but we also have to keep in mind that the patient experience is the reference point of any technology change in our hospitals. Technology needs to enhance the patient experience by complementing, not replacing, customer service. Technology should reduce registration time, eliminate repetitive questions and help to end surprise billing. As technology is used more and more to make registration seamless, patient access professionals will have more time to focus on customer service.

What are your thoughts on how patient access will evolve in the next five years?

As we grow in technology, seamless registration and real-time financial clearance, I see patient access evolving into more of a concierge service. The registration process will be done before the patient comes into the facility, and patient access will be there strictly to answer questions and provide customer service. This will empower our patients to focus only on their care, which is what matters most.

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Cerner’s patient access solutions streamline information across your organization. Learn more here.