Healthcare costs are still rising and still causing problems for many consumers, who are expected to pay more and more out of pocket costs for treatment, via deductibles, copayments, or higher monthly premiums. Similarly, healthcare practices are facing their own challenges with the rising costs—the self-pay patient—and will need to adopt more flexible policies regarding payments policies in order to remain successful and retain patients.
Self-pay patients are any who who must cover large sums out of pocket—the kind of sums that few can afford to make in one payment. These self-pay patients are quickly becoming the norm—out of sheer necessity—and practices will need to plan accordingly if they hope to be able to accommodate patient needs.
In the past, many practices required up-front payment for services or copays—with the exception of certain surgical procedures—and any unexpected costs were generally written off after only one or two attempts to collect. With so many patients having to self-pay now due to deductibles and other issues, practices can no longer afford to lose out on the revenue owed to them—especially when it’s as simple as setting up an effective and well-organized self-pay process.
Below are the steps to creating a good self-pay plan, one that will provide better returns for your bottom line and will offer manageable solutions for patients who need a practice that will work with them instead of against them.
Create a clear, reasonable, and effective self-pay policy.
Be realistic in your expectations and keep your patients in mind. Writing a clear policy that takes into account different payment amounts and different pay scales and methods will make your patients more inclined to pay on time. Ensuring they understand this option and the details of the policy will prevent any misunderstandings.
Communicate balances and expectations clearly with patients.
One area where many practices fail with self-pay patients is clear communication of expectations. With a reasonable policy in place, your practice has the ability to collect more in payments but only if patients are clearly aware of patient dates and expectations so they can plan to meet those needs. Utilizing technology to send email or text reminders of payments balances can also be very effective in encouraging payment.
Create a regular workflow process for self-pay patients and follow up often.
Working self-pay patient files should be a regular daily occurrence for practice office staff. The need for self-pay options isn’t going to disappear and practices must absorb and accept this necessity as a part of everyday office life. Regular follow-up, reminders, phone calls, and monitoring of aging will ensure effective management and can also be used as a tool to build patient relationships if done correctly.
Make it as easy as possible—options always help.
The easier it is to pay, the more likely patients will be to make payments. Online, phone payments, or general mobility all make it easier for patients to handle that bill as soon as you call to remind them or as soon as that email comes in.
When obligations are left unmet, bring in a collections agency.
Unfortunately, even the best plan can’t make sure all bills are paid—but that’s ok. All practices and businesses have to deal with at least some bad debt, but don’t be afraid to hire a collection agency to handle the debt collection once it ages past 90 to 120 days. You may not get every penny, but you’ll still bring in more than if you just let it go. Follow-up is essential and at some point, it’s just out of your hands and would be best left to professional collection agents.
No one likes having to collect on bills, but for many self-pay patients, a clear and easy method of payment along with regular follow-up will prevent the need for any collections processes. Most patients inherently want to pay their bills. If you make that reasonable and easy for them, they’ll meet their obligations the majority of the time—providing your practice with direct income and your patients with the care they need at prices they can afford.