We have all been patients, so we all know the drill. We open the mailbox and flip through the pile of mail, mostly from people who are trying to separate us from our money. After the credit card offers and coupons for the local car wash, there’s an envelope we immediately recognize as containing a medical bill. A sinking feeling, maybe even a fleeting desire to not look (at least not right away). We open the envelope, and search through the statement for the only line we care about.
$500, due immediately.
As patients spend more of their household income on healthcare costs, healthcare organizations need to provide flexibility in payment options to meet consumer realities. One such reality is that 45 percent of Americans report that a surprise medical bill of $500 would be difficult to pay. When patients have difficulty paying, everyone hurts. It also drives up medical costs and is detrimental to health outcomes in the long run, as greater than 50 percent of the public reports having delayed seeking medical care in the last 12 months out of concern about affordability.
There are a number of ways healthcare organizations can ease the burden placed on patients so patients can focus on staying well, all while both sides are assured the bills will be paid.
Begin payment discussions at the first point of contact with insurance eligibility verification and cost estimations. Collect in-office payments as possible and help patients sign up for digital options like electronic statements, automated payment plans, and patient portals.
Accept a Variety of Payment Types
Make it easy for patients to give you money by offering them several methods for payment. Accept a broad range of payment methods in the office and through the patient portal, including support for a digital wallet. Make payments simple by securely storing payment information in compliance with applicable regulations.
Set Realistic Payment Schedules
Find options to avoid one large, surprise bill in your patient’s mailbox. This can happen in a number of different ways, depending on the patient population and services provided. For example, many obstetrics offices will assess a fee for routine prenatal services over the course of a pregnancy and the patient will pay installments in the office over the course of the first few months of pregnancy. Patients who lack the resources to pay a large sum immediately are often willing to work with the billing office on a payment plan, especially if there are clear alternative payment options explained early in the patient encounter. It isn’t enough to bury a vague sentence in the financial agreement form that tells patients to call the business office if they are having trouble making payments. Many patients won’t recognize they have that option, and others will be too embarrassed to call. Be proactive by detailing payment options early.
Finally, keep an eye on your financial reporting as self-pay patients rise in number. Routine financial reporting will help identify trends as patients continue to pick up a larger share of the payment burden. The data from these reports can be used to determine if your organization is doing everything it can to optimize patient payments.