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St. Peter's Health working to put 'heart' into their billing system

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Posted at 5:59 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 12:37:35-04

HELENA — Over past years, St. Peter’s Health has received a numerous comments and other diverse feedback regarding their billing system.

The medical center has used that feedback to create what they believe is a more transparent and personal billing system.

“We are on a mission here at St. Peter’s to put the heart into the billing department,” said Director of Patient Business Services Sheri Renney. “It’s not always about the money. The money is important to keep our doors open, but it’s really about our patients.”

For the last three years St. Peter’s Health has been working on improving billing.

Based on community feedback, they’ve implemented new features and policies including: a new online payment portal, new billing statements, a Helena-based customer service team and expanded patient outreach.

Renney told MTN they’ve already seen notable improvement by having the customer service team based in the medical center.

“That service had been outsourced by other companies. They would take the information and then query us. That might be a day, or weeks or they had forgotten to query us and the patient then never got an answer,” said Renney.

Having the customer service team in house allows them to directly access information, resources and contact departments regarding a patient’s billing.

The goal is when a patient has a question it can be answered in that call, or within the day if possible.

“We have a ‘first touch' philosophy here now that whatever information that person requires we want to provide it with the first touch if at all possible,” said Renney.

The customer care team has been trained with the mentality of not treating patients as invoices, but as neighbors who may be going through an incredibly difficult and stressful time.

“It all goes back to the heart. If that woman was your mother, your grandmother, your wife, your daughter how would you want them to be treated ,” said Renney.

The new customer service team began work right before COVID hit Montana, and have been proactively reaching out to patients to see if they need help during the pandemic.

Kate Garton, coordinator of the financial counselors and customer service team, says the proactive approach has been working and will help patients during an already stressful time.

“We can reach out to patients before to discuss that bill before it overwhelms them,” explained Garton. “It’s surprising how much your financial stress can affect everything and it’s a full circle effect. We don’t want to put them in any more stress because they received a high bill and they were unaware of it.”

St. Peter’s new online payment portal and billing statements also better breakdown charge details, and if there is anything being held up by insurance.

Executive Director of Revenue Cycle Devon Murray says due to the nature and complexity of medical billing nothing will ever be perfect, but improvements can and should be consistently looked into and implemented for the betterment of patients.

“As you see problems, as you have issues please reach out to us,” said Murray. “That’s one of the big reasons why we created this customer service center, so that we understand and know what those issues are so that we can go forward and fix them.”

Patients with billing questions can call (406)447-2783 or visit www.sphealth.org. The customer service team is available between 8:00a.m. and 5:00p.m., Monday through Friday.

Patients whose situation has changed during the pandemic are encouraged to reach out about alternative payment plans and other financing help the hospital may be able to help them with.