In this three part blog series we will discuss how Collecting Patient Payments can be made relatively painless with a little preparation and guidance by Practice Administrators, Office Managers or Physicians.
Part I: Collect at the time of service
We don’t like to think of healthcare as a business, but in reality, that’s exactly what it is so, unless you like working for free, collections is a necessary part of the healthcare business. Collections are especially important today and going forward with the Affordable Care Act with the increase in patient responsibility. If payments aren’t collected, then the facility doesn’t have the means to pay the staff a competitive wage, pay vendors, or invest in technology and continued education. Without collections, the physician is faced with retiring, closing the doors, or working for a hospital system.
According to a recent article in Physicians Practice “One of the biggest mistakes offices make is not collecting at the time of service.” Collecting at the time of service reduces the amount of time and money spent on mailing statements and increases the likelihood patients will pay their balance in a timely manner.
Here are four simple ways to increase payments at the time of service:
1. Verify insurance – Prior to the appointment verify insurance. Note the patient’s financial responsibility (co-pay) and any past due balance recorded in the practice management system and make this information easily accessible for the staff during the patient check-in.
Not collecting co-pays upfront is like letting, on average, $80,000 a year walk out the door. If a physician sees 20 patients a day and the co-pays average $20 each, then the office is collecting $400 in co-payments daily. That translates to over $80,000 per year.
2. Ask the right questions – When people are asked if they want to pay for something or if they would like it for free, the response is going to be ‘Free Please’. So, instead of asking “Would you like to make a payment today?” ask “How would you like to pay today – we accept cash, credit, checks, FSA and HSA cards?”
3. Training – It is very important the staff is properly trained on how to determine deductibles and coinsurance. Fee schedule charts or automated estimator programs are great resources.
4. Tools – Patients typically have no idea of the cost for the service they are about to receive. This is where an Estimate of the cost of services is very helpful and can increase collections tremendously. However, when giving a patient an estimate it is very important both the staff and the patient understand an estimate is just that; it is an estimate of the patient’s portion of the cost of the service. It is almost never an EXACT amount. Why? Because the physician determines the best course of action during the office visit. For example: a strep test may be added, an X-ray required or a splint put on a finger.
The business of medicine is not an EXACT science – it’s not like buying a washer and dryer – it is a physician determining the best solution for the best outcome for the patient. The purpose of the estimate is to give a general idea of the cost and to help patients and staff determine how to establish payments.
What are some of your experiences collecting at the time of service? Share them with us in the comments section below!
Stay tuned next week for the second blog in the collections series on Setting Payment Expectations.