Patient collections: an increasingly necessary activity, contributing in a major way to the revenue stream and financial health of a medical practice. Copays can easily fall through the cracks, leading to a massive loss at the end of the month. Many providers find it difficult to stay on top of these collections, yet if they don’t, they may find themselves unable to make payments of their own. With insured patients and providers both feeling overwhelmed, especially with rising deductibles and various other healthcare costs, it can be tricky to know where to start. Medical billing software can cost unnecessarily, especially if the provider already outsources their billing. It is perhaps easier to try the following strategies for getting and remaining organized, as well as staying on top of collections:
1. Collect at the Time of Service
This may seem obvious, but all too often will a patient check in for their appointment with partial or no payment. It is here that communication is absolutely key. Prior to accepting an insured patient, it is recommended to have a clear policy in place dictating when payments are due, and how much of said payment is due. Once this has been expressed clearly (and then some) to the incoming patient, the next step is educating registration staff. The front-end staff of any practice should be in possession of the skills and boundaries to eloquently and personably request payment.
It may also be helpful to have staff explain why a payment was not received in written form, so the provider can analyze it, and make any necessary changes in the future according to their findings. Accepting various forms of payment will also be helpful with this strategy. Patients are more likely to pay upon discovering multiple options will be accepted.
2. Efficient Statements and Patient Collections Notices
Statements and collection notices itemized to the ‘T’ will also result in higher collection rates. What exactly is the patient being charged for? What services were performed? What are the dates and times of these services? This will enable providers, patients, and staff, to consistently have a clear picture of what is owed and why. It can only help the lines of communication stay open and transparent, thusly improving timely payment receipts. So much is lost in misunderstanding and vague or overly complex paperwork, it is vital to all parties that the provider demonstrate honesty and clarity.
3. Patient Follow-up and Payment Plans
Communication again remains number one. Payment plans are often needed, and effective follow-up is crucial to the success of them. It is a good idea to have payment plans spanning no more than 6 months, as that is generally regarded as the point of no return for any business. It is far less likely the practice will receive what it is owed once the balance moves into even as little as that 7th month. Payment plans will remove some pressure from the patient, who is just as burdened by increasing costs due to healthcare industry changes. This is another area in which the staff must be fluent in kindness and consistency. Developing a policy for late and past-due payments that the staff can easily support and carry-out, will certainly ease the stress-level of a provider, and at the same time maintain cash flow.
5. Online Patient Portals
Online medical billing is rapidly becoming the norm. Even if a provider employs a medical billing service, there is still important information to be gleaned from the use of online systems. Patients who have 24/7 access to the details of their account, and the ability to make payments on the account, are more inclined to make on-time payments. HIPAA compliance of course is paramount when engaging systems of this nature, and there are many set-ups that are made just for the medical industry that ensure confidentiality and tight security.
Improving patient collections should be a chief goal for any practice. Though finding the balance between patient relationships and providing quality care all while making money can be tricky, it is time well spent to continually improve upon this facet of providership.
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