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Whatever your opinion of personal healthcare plans in the U.S. is, there is no denying that insurance plan deductibles continue to rise at a rate that greatly outpaces wage growth, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation observational analysis. No matter how you slice it, higher deductibles combined with escalating premiums generate costs most patients and families simply can’t afford to pay outright or without financially burdening themselves at a painful level. This compels patients to pay higher co-pays or pay out-of-pocket, which can sometimes be more expensive than not having medical insurance in the first place.
This problem takes a financial toll on the patient. This problem takes a toll on your practice as well. Each unsuccessfully collected bill by a medical practice can cost triple to your practice in downstream revenue damage in terms of time lost and inefficiencies introduced into the system. For medical practices large and small, ensuring your practice can successfully collect on medical bills means solidifying your revenue stream, and just as importantly, helping patients avoid insurmountable balances that might force them into collections. We’ll be focusing on five ways to improve your patient collections and help both patient and medical provider.
Train Front of House About Squaring Balances
If your front desk staff isn’t doing it already, they need to get into the habit of explaining the remaining balance on the accounts of any returning patients. The remaining balance needs to be stated explicitly to the patient, while offering different options for how the balance can be paid before the next appointment. It is in the practice’s best interest, and in the interest of the patient not getting blindsided, to create a clear-cut, well-defined policy, like preventing further follow up appointments until the balance has been cleared. All of the policies should be clearly stated online or on literature freely available to the patient upon admission, and front of staff should be trained with either a script or flow diagram of what actions to take in each scenario. Perhaps most importantly, front of house should do their best to be sensitive to the difficult situation of the patient, diffuse stress, and remain helpful while trying to guide the patients toward the best solution for everyone. In the world of reviews, this last detail is enormous.
Clearly Outline Payment Policies
Similar to the first point, clarity in strictly, explicitly delineated payment policies needs to be a priority for any practice that feels their medical billing collections rate is lagging. This clarity component can take any number of forms, from an automatic pop-up online or on a mobile app that requires the patient to read payment policies before making an appointment, to signs posted in the practice’s waiting room, to providing these policies in email or text reminders for upcoming appointments. Unfortunately, another source of incomplete payments is patients being inadequately informed of the pricing of certain expensive medical procedures. When a patient is surprised and ill-equipped to pay because they weren’t sufficiently warned about pricing, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the medical practice. Implementing a policy where an accurate or very informed projection of the total costs for the patient before the visit or procedure is truly the only way to quell this. Getting an idea from the medical provider, billing department, and anyone else involved in billing to come up with a payment projection protocol to give to the patient is the lone way for the patient to know if he or she can afford it, and it’s crucial to prevent failed payments at a later time.
Simplify Payments Processing
Also related to point #1, making the physical process of paying as streamlined as possible greatly increases the chances the patient balance will be paid. The biggest way to ease payment burden is to allow for online payments via your website or web portal, where the patient can have the option to use debit or credit cards. As some patient balances will be larger depending on the care they have received, flexible payment plans with good faith rewards for on-time payment are mandatory. To streamline the process further, practices should consider having a patient’s credit card information kept on file so the practice can charge the patient after they see their statement and agree, or it can be charged earlier if they opt-out of receiving a statement. Another option is to partner with a credit card company that can set up payment plans that might save them on interest, allowing the patient to have their card automatically charged each month for a previously agreed-upon amount. While having these services might seem draconian, patients respond more positively when all of this information is presented upfront, and it is all in the name of protecting the patient from collections.
Regularly Track Collections Outcomes
Let’s be honest: no one wants to be the one to hound patients on the phone to pay their bills. However, figuring out a strategy to monitor collection rates (via software, a staff more dedicated to this one area, etc.) and coming up with innovative ways to find out where and how payments are not made is important and necessary. Combining this point with the third point made above (simplify payments processing), reminding patients you have a robust set of payment plans and more convenient automated tools, may help improve your collection rates and reduce large balances.
Introduce Electronic Billing Software
At this point, the advantages of having even a partially electronic billing software system greatly outweigh an analog system. The positives of having an electronic system are plentiful: automatic tracking of payments, populated data reports on different aspects of your revenue cycle stream, generating projections or backwards analysis on weekly, quarterly, or yearly bases, etc. While the billing software can be robust on its own, combining it or any system with outsourced medical billing firms like Delphi Management Services can do wonders for your billing efficiency by allowing experts to provide the type of billing analysis and support that can be tailored to a practice of any size.