Over the years the medical bills of patients are getting bigger and bigger. This is mainly happening due to the spiraling cost of health care and the adoption of plans with high deductibles by patients in a bid to keep their insurance premium down. There are innumerable instances of patients receiving treatment but being unwilling or not in a position to pay their bills. This non-receipt of dues is one of the biggest problems that medical practices are currently facing because when patients do not pay they can end up putting the existence of the medical practice at risk. This means that finding methods of improving collections of unpaid medical bills should be a top priority for practices in 2016 and beyond.
The Effect of Rising Cost of Health Care on Collections
According to a study conducted by the Medical Group Management Association, around 20% of the revenues of a medical practice is made up from patient copays, however, only 60% of that is collected by most doctors. Even moderately successful practices will appreciate that after taking such a hit on the billing, they really can’t afford to lose more money due to coding errors and requirements of Meaningful Use. For smaller practices on shoestring budgets, the problem is even more. However, the problem will continue to remain as an increasing number of patients will need to fork out larger copays every time they visit the doctor or they will be spending more because their insurance policies have higher deductibles.
The cost of healthcare is assuming alarming proportions for the middle class, and professionals really need to struggle to cover what the health plan of their employers doesn’t. When medical costs shoot up, it translates to either a delay in treatment or a delay in payment. What the situation really means for health care practices is that they cannot afford to neglect patient copays and need to improve their collections dramatically. Some practical ways of improving billing collections significantly:
Train Your Front Desk to Collect
The staff at the front desk is responsible for collections so it is vital that you train them in such a way that they are able to extract the payment before the patient meets you. Ensure that there is plenty of signage in the waiting room stating the payment policy clearly to prevent patients becoming embarrassed. Whenever any patient calls to fix an appointment, your staff receiving the call should communicate any previous unpaid dues as well as the options for payment. Patients should be clearly told that they need to pay the due amount before the appointment or when they report for the appointment. Ideally, they should be provided with scripts that they can use to communicate with patients with due payments. Also, impress upon them that they should always be courteous and respectful irrespective of the number of calls they make regarding the unpaid bills.
Be Clear About Your Pricing
Most of the payments become overdue simply because patients have no idea about how much a treatment would cost and thus fail to budget adequately for the expense. It is a good policy to be completely clear about your prices so that patients can always decide beforehand whether they can afford the treatment. Make sure that you check their insurance coverage before seeing them so that all the costs can be factored in. In case, patients have plans with high deductibles, you can inform them that they could expect to pay a certain amount from their own pocket.
Deploy a Sophisticated Billing Software Package
The days of keeping track of your patients and their billings manually are long gone. If you have not yet deployed a medical billing software package then you are making your own life tougher than what it needs to be. You can streamline all your medical records and especially the collection process very easily with modern billing packages. The software is capable of tracking overdue bills, identifying patients who have not paid up in time and automating the fines applicable for late payments. It may be tempting to choose a lighter package but you need to appreciate that the more powerful packages are worth every bit of their higher price tags and can save you far more than the extra investment by reducing your internal resources required for billing and increasing your collections.
Offer a Variety of Options for Payment
As a doctor who has his patients’ wellbeing as a primary objective, you will appreciate that most patients may be perfectly willing to pay but may not be in a position to do so due to financial stringency. Offering a variety of payment options to patients with large payments can be a very good method of entertaining patients who are not in a position to pay the entire amount upfront. Consider devising different payment plans, payment deferral or payment in installments, etc.
Make the Payment Process Easy
The easier you make for your patients to make their payments the lesser the chance of them defaulting or delaying their payments. Permitting online payments using credit or debit cards or direct bank transfer can be very convenient for patients and reduce overdue payments. The associated advantage of allowing online payments is that patients will be encouraged to use the patient portal, a minimum usage requirement of which is laid down in Meaningful Use.
Give Performance Incentives to Billing and Collection Staff
You need to appreciate that chasing patients for overdue payments all the time cannot be a lot of fun for your staff responsible for the function. The work can be extremely tiring and frustrating because many patients will refuse to cooperate with them and may even indulge in aggressive behavior. This sort of a working environment can easily lead to a lack of motivation that can be curbed by a show of appreciation for their good work and an incentive program that is linked to their collection performance.
Engage In Persistent Follow-Ups
You may think that it is good enough to remind patients with overdue payments once a month. However, there are many patients who take advantage of this and stall the follow-up calls safe in the knowledge that they would not be disturbed for another month or so. If your setup allows, tell your collection staff to call them up once a week because persistent contact is known to have a very good effect on even the most reluctant of patients, who will realize that the practice is serious about the dues and that they need to pay up to avoid legal action.
Get a Specialist Medical Biller On Board
Assigning your billing and collection function to a professional billing agency could save you a lot of agony. The fees that these agencies charge work out very well keeping in mind that the billing will be more efficient, insurance claims will be followed up more efficiently, and cash flows improved substantially. You will be in a position then to focus on what you can do best – treating your patients.
You can achieve a significant improvement in your practice’s cash flows by adopting as many of the tips mentioned above as possible. You will need to judge each one as to how practical it is for you to implement them in your own specific environment and then see which ones are most effective.
Author bio: Jeff Stevens is a senior executive at a reputed medical billing software development company. Jeff has engaged in numerous dialog with medical practitioners and hospitals to understand their prime concerns and figured out ways of addressing them with software features.