The task of getting patients more engaged in their health care already is keeping hospital managers plenty busy, but industry officials say hospitals also should be paying attention to patient financial engagement.

Patients are taking on a greater share of the financial responsibility for their health care as a result of both the Affordable Care Act and because of changes in private health insurance coverage, says Joseph Fifer, president and CEO of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. "The whole environment of patient engagement and the financial aspect of health care are changing pretty dramatically before our eyes," Fifer says.

The ACA's marketplace health insurance plans often carry high deductibles or co-payments, while high-deductible plans also are becoming more common in the private insurance market.

"That just screams for better communication between providers of all types and patients about these issues," Fifer says.

To assist with that, HFMA last year unveiled a set of guidelines for hospitals to follow regarding their financial communications with patients, and the association plans to launch a voluntary financial communications skills recognition program for hospitals in the first quarter of this year. Using a process of self-evaluation created by HFMA, interested hospitals could choose to be recognized as a user of best practices in financial communications.

HFMA also partnered with the credit professionals group ACA International to lead a task force that produced a set of best practices for medical-debt collection that in part are designed to improve communication with patients.

As far as whether the recognition program will gain acceptance among hospitals and health systems, Fifer says it's too early in the process to know.

Pat Keel, senior vice president and chief financial officer for Good Shepherd Health System in Longview, Texas, says it has begun the self-assessment process to see how it stacks up. System executives will decide whether to pursue HFMA recognition once it gets further along in the process, says Keel, who served on the HFMA steering committee overseeing the guidelines.

Fifer says the most important aspect to the effort is the guidelines themselves.

"The public has gotten more and more skin in the game in terms of out-of-pocket costs," Fifer says. "It is increasingly important, if not critical, to organizations — whether they seek recognition or not — [that they] adopt these best practices."