Digital in action: Enhancing financial assistance through AI and digital tools


In this article:

  • Medical debt is a major problem nationwide, but a patient’s financial situation should not be a barrier to receiving the health care they need.

  • Providence’s Digital Innovation Group and revenue cycle team collaborated on an AI-powered solution to help bring financial assistance programs closer to patients who can benefit most from them.

  • Read on to learn how Grace, Providence’s friendly chatbot, is helping to educate and ease enrollment in financial assistance programs.

Your ability to pay should never stop you from getting the health care you need. Unfortunately, nearly a quarter of Americans have medical debt, with many unable to pay their bills, which can lead to delays in treatment, worsening conditions and other complications that could have been prevented.

A groundbreaking financial assistance solution from Providence is designed to change this statistic by easing medical debt and enhancing patient outcomes. In collaboration with Providence’s revenue cycle team, the Digital Innovation Group (DIG) at Providence built a new, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tool to help patients answer questions about their bills and learn if they qualify for financial assistance. 

“A lot of patients who can’t pay their medical bills end up going into debt and can’t get the continuing care they need,” says Christina DiFerdinando, director of product operations for Providence. “Their conditions get worse because they can’t manage and prevent further complications. We are working to change that by enabling patients to more easily access financial programs that help them afford and pay their bills.”

Financial assistance at your fingertips

Patients use these self-service financial resources through the Grace chatbot on the Providence website, within the Providence app and in MyChart. They can check their eligibility for financial assistance programs. If they are interested in applying for these programs, they can get advice on how to streamline what can be a confusing application process.

“One of the ways Grace helps our patients is through navigating financial health, including if they have a question about their bills, how to pay bills, questions on statements or if they need additional financial support,” says DiFerdinando. “With this AI tool, we’re able to encourage patients to self-serve and navigate to the right place at the right time to find the information they need to support their health care journey.”

Grace is also easy to talk to. Generative AI technology and machine learning power the chatbot, so it automates natural responses to patients’ financial questions. These chats are secure since Providence applies best practices for handling patient information, safeguards patients from errors and regularly monitors responses.

“We want patients to feel like Grace understands and knows them,” says DiFerdinando. “It’s a constant learning process to understand the questions patients are asking, their decision making and their experience at the end of each interaction so we can make Grace more empathetic and able to respond to questions smarter.”

For questions Grace can’t answer, the DIG team enables patients to chat in real-time with a revenue cycle counselor. This one-on-one support doesn’t require any calling or rerouting since counselors can see the patients’ questions from Grace, which makes for an easier patient experience.

In addition to providing financial services and information, patients can also use Grace to book appointments, refill their medications or ask other administrative questions that don’t require a response from their care team. Most of all, they can do all of these activities on their own time – 24/7 – without needing to wait for a person to respond to them.

As a bonus, Grace has already cut down on administrative requests for care teams, which have made up around 30% of the messages going to providers in MyChart. That means caregivers can spend less time redirecting these messages and more time doing what they do best – taking care of patients.

Overcoming barriers to financial assistance programs

In partnering with the revenue cycle team, the DIG team found that many patients didn’t know about financial assistance programs, including what options were available or how to start applying. Grace eases that burden by walking through simple questions like household members and earnings to see if patients might qualify, then directing patients to detailed instructions and tips on how to apply digitally through MyChart. 

“These programs haven’t been marketed extensively in the past, so there is a real lack of awareness about the benefits of these programs,” says DiFerdinando. “We’re excited that Grace is helping to educate patients and dispel some of the myths surrounding financial assistance and support.”

The team also found that many patients felt a stigma about applying for financial assistance and had a misunderstanding of who qualifies. There were also questions about when patients can apply since many did not know that they can pre-qualify for assistance before receiving care, which can ease stress ahead of treatment. Fortunately, DIG was able to combat these challenges with Grace.

“Our research shows that patients feel more comfortable interacting with digital resources than humans to determine if they are eligible for these different financial programs,” says DiFerdinando. “Since they are interacting with a chatbot, it helps remove the barrier of the perception of feeling judged.”

This engagement means the opportunity to lower medical debt and make sure all patients have access to the care they need.

“A lot of people put off receiving care because they can’t afford it or are worried about different costs associated with it,” says DiFerdinando. “It is a tough choice between buying medication and buying groceries that patients shouldn’t have to make. Our goal is to provide information so patients can make the right decisions for themselves and so their financial situation doesn’t limit their ability to receive care.”

To see these new digital capabilities in action, download the Providence app and sign in using your Providence or MyChart credentials. You can create a Providence account if you don’t have one, which will give you access to both the Providence app and MyChart. Inside the app, you’ll find a robust digital experience personalized to you — including all of your care options in one place, personalized programs, service and resource recommendations, self-service support, and navigation capabilities.

Contributing caregiver

Christina DiFerdinando is the director of product operations for Providence’s Digital Innovation Group.

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Related resources

Providence helps some patients with their health care bills

Digital in action: Bringing your health care into the digital age

Download the Providence app for care at your fingertips

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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