One of the best ways to increase collections from patients is to remove barriers to payment. In other words, make it easy for people to give you money. Good, structured communication will keep patients informed about what their responsibilities are and what their options are for fulfilling those responsibilities.
The initial point of contact, patient scheduling and preregistration, is the time to set expectations for patient responsibilities. This interaction is usually over the phone, and is a critical point in the patient experience to lay the groundwork for the relationship between the patient and the billing department. Use this phone call to secure multiple means of communication between the patient and the healthcare organization. This first contact is the best time to:
• Collect insurance information and use software to determine coverage. Communicate to the patient what the co-payment will be, and that it will be collected in advance of the delivery of services. As possible, use this time to also use an estimate calculator to communicate estimates of patient responsibilities outside the co-payment.
• Collect patient contact information. During this interaction, collect a phone number and an email address for follow-up. The initial phone call should not be the last time the patient hears from the provider’s office before the time of service: keep in touch to educate the patient and collect necessary information.
For phone calls with established patients who are calling for reasons other than initiating first contact, train the staff to engage in friendly collection practices, such as reminding patients of outstanding balances and offering to take payment over the phone.
Automated appointment reminders via text message are an important tool in decreasing the incidence of appointment no-shows. Automated texts can also be sent out when a statement is ready. The importance of including texting as a means of communicating with patients is worth stressing: market research has shown that text messages are far more likely to been seen immediately than any other medium. The final read rate of SMS messages stands at an astonishing 98 percent.
The patient’s email should be used to invite participation in the patient portal, and provide resources to educate the patient about what to expect from the visit and their payment options. While email does not approach the extraordinary read rate of text messaging, it does enjoy substantial benefits compared to postal mail, including cost-effectiveness, timeliness, and convenience. Electronic statements submitted to patients via email increase the chances of immediate payment by linking to methods for online bill pay.
Our goal is to minimize the amount of time patients spend in waiting rooms or exam rooms as they anticipate seeing their healthcare provider. However, this is a prime opportunity for communicating with a captive audience. Train front office staff to leverage these encounters to educate patients about payment options and provide contact information for financial counseling. Offer reading material such as brochures that explain how to create a patient portal account.