HELENA – Hospital bills can be frustrating and having issues with medical bills can be worse; for some patients at St. Peter’s Health, dealing with billing has been anything but smooth.

A new program was unveiled in January 2017, but some of the problems haven’t been fixed.

“We still have work to do and we understand that and we want to own this and let everyone know that we are well aware of these issues,” said St. Peter’s Health CEO Wade Johnson.

A new billing company, PatientMatters, was hired in the spring of 2016 to address some of the issues. Mailers were sent to community members explaining the changes with the hopeful idea that simply using a new vendor to handling patient billing would be enough to solve the concerns. After efforts made by both the hospital and the company, Johnson explained Monday that those efforts weren’t enough, and they know that.

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“As we’ve looked at that and as we’ve gotten feedback from surveys within the community we’re seeing progress, we’ve got great people that are working super hard on this, but it also became apparent to me that the problem is deep,” said Johnson. “It goes all the way down into the IT infrastructure that we have for our billing processes”

Those infrastructure issues relate to the idea that software programs used by St. Peter’s Health are not compatible with one another.

As Johnson said, “It’s like an Apple and a Microsoft product trying to talk to each other.”

Besides the IT woes, Johnson said another problem stems from a lack of communication. When a patient calls the customer service number listed on their bill, “That service rep may not have the same information that the patient does so getting a resolution to that becomes a problem and the patient has to make multiple calls,” Johnson explained.

“We still have more work to do in that regard as well in making sure that the patient and the customer service rep has the same information and they can work together to things understood and resolved.”

St. Peter’s Health has instituted a training and education program for call center employees to better enable them to help patient’s questions and concerns.

Johnson added that the hospital has gotten some positive feedback from the community after changes to the patient payment portal which resulted in simplified billing statements.

As St. Peter’s Health is gearing up to kick off a transformation in January 2018, including a name change, the push for better billing is part of that.

“I would prefer patients not have to have their experience with St. Peter’s clouded with a bad billing experience,” Johnson said.

Johnson added that community members can be a part of this process, as the hospital works to find the best solution to the billing systems.

“We really want to partner with the patients as we work through this. So if they have any questions to call us up and to know that if they have any feedback to call us and let us know and to keep that information coming back to us,” he said.

Ultimately, Johnson said he understands patients’ frustrations with the hospital billing systems, but he hopes people realize the other services the hospital can offer.

“We want folks to know that the care here is awesome, it’s great care but the billing system is still, at times, is falling short of where we want it to be,” Johnson said.

A follow up survey is planned for February 2018 and the St. Peter’s Health said alternate customer service solutions will be explored if patient experience scores have not improved.

St. Peter’s Health said the current company, PatientMatters, will continue to be used as this transformation moves forward and the overhaul of the billing systems could take a year or more to complete.