Telling patients how much they will have to pay before they get their care has proven to be good business at Geisinger Health System.

It has improved its bill-collection rate and customer satisfaction, said Kevin Brennan, chief financial officer.

Geisinger, which employs 700 doctors and operates in 40 counties in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, began about three years ago to talk with patients scheduled for expensive outpatient procedures about what they would be expected to pay, he said.

It tells insured patients what their copayments will be and talks to the uninsured about discounts.

As of this year, the system can calculate what patients will pay both the hospital and doctors. By the end of the summer, Brennan hopes patients will be able to get the information easily online.

"We have decreased the number of claims we write off as bad debt because we've engaged the patient earlier in the process," Brennan said. For its investment of $10 million in the new approach, Geisinger has reaped benefits of more than $25 million, he said.

People haven't resented the money talk, he said. "We've actually found it to be a real satisfier because most people don't understand their benefits."

While the numbers are small in a system with $1.4 billion in revenue a year, Brennan said every bit of added efficiency helped.

"When the hospital's only making a 2 percent bottom line," he said, "whether or not you collect 1 percent of your bills could be the difference between making and losing money for the entire year."