Collecting patient payments is not always the most fun part of the job. But, with more than 23 percent of total revenue in health practices coming from patient collections, according to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), few can deny that managing patient payments correctly is a significant priority for practices.
More recent reports have indicated that high deductibles have played a major role in refocusing practice efforts with regard to out-of-pocket costs for patients. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, average combined deductibles within the Marketplace for 2016 were $5,765 for bronze plans, up from $5,328 in 2015, and $3,064 for silver plans, up from $2,556 in 2015.
While these deductibles are from the Marketplace, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that current private insurance deductibles have also risen. In 2015, more than 63 percent of privately insured individuals with single coverage experienced deductibles of $1,000 or more, compared to only 10 percent in 2006.
In short, patient payments are an unavoidable and vital portion of the revenue stream for modern practices. If you aren’t already making your payment collection process a priority, now is the time to make important changes.
Below are seven invaluable strategies for promoting success in your patient payment policies.
Don’t be sorry—be firm about requesting payment.
There’s no reason to feel remorseful about requesting payment from your patients. Make sure to counsel staff on this thoroughly, especially those on the frontline of patient interactions. Patients should be made aware of deductibles or copays upfront, preferably prior to the appointment. Staff should also endeavor to collect confirmed patient payments prior to appointments, where possible. With the expectation set, there’s no reason why patients shouldn’t be prepared to cover their healthcare costs at the time of service.
E-statements make everything easier.
Make your life easier by automating any processes you can. The best way to start is by setting up e-statements for your practice, which will save everyone time and will save your practice money in the long run.
Break free from the 30-day cycle.
Once you’ve set up e-statements, it’s simple to reach out to patients through more reliable and expedient forms of media. Since you won’t have to spend money to send out paper statements every month and the effort is so much lower, why not reach out to your patients more frequently? Let go of your notions that a 30-day payment cycle is necessary. You can shorten this to bi-weekly, ensuring patients are thoroughly aware of obligations—and many will hasten to do away with past due balances as quickly as possible.
Be specific and clear about due dates.
Payment processes should be primarily communication-focused. The first rule of communication is to be clear and specific. Make sure patients are aware of exact due dates for payment plans, and try to emphasize those expectations clearly with every patient interaction.
Take the time to listen and work with your patients.
Most patients truly do want to meet their obligations. Understanding each patient’s needs and capabilities is a big part of making that possible. It’s vital for any successful practice to create clear policies that are communicated upfront to patients, but your staff also needs to listen when unanticipated circumstances arise or when patient needs exceed patient payment capabilities. Even when situations take unexpected turns, the right payment plans or arrangements can ensure all parties end up satisfied with the outcome.
Never miss an opportunity to confirm details or ask for balances.
Every conversation with a patient, whether it’s phone-based or at the practice, should include a confirmation of patient contact information and a discussion of patient balances. While this might seem like overkill, the fact is that you don’t speak to some patients all that frequently. You don’t want to miss out on any chance that your communications might be missed or a past due balance might go unaddressed.
Manage payment plans as a unique category.
Don’t let you payment plans get away from you. Simplify the process by keeping a separate category for your patients who are under payment arrangements. You want to make it simple to send out reminders and regular statements regarding patient payments and balances, so keep those files as part of a separate category in your system that will allow you to run reports and manage those files as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Keeping up with patient balances, copays, insurance payments, and other general revenue management tasks is no small matter. But you can make each aspect of your revenue stream flow smoothly with the right technology, as well as clear policies, effective training practices, and regular patient interaction.
Take a moment to assess your patient collection practices to determine if now is the right time for change. With only a few adaptations to your approach, both your practice and patients could benefit from easier, clearer interactions based on well-established payment guidelines. In the end, making it easy for your patients to meet their financial obligations will only help your practice flourish.