For example, a patient with a $2,500 deductible might not be able to pay the full amount over three months, but stretching it over a year makes for a payment the patient can more likely afford.
“There is no magic number of what every payment should be, it’s just a matter of what is a reasonable amount for the patient that doesn’t drag out the payments over five years,” says Gundling.
Keeping a patient’s credit card on file can also help physicians to collect unpaid bills, but Gundling says a practice needs strong security measures in place to protect the data and that the risks may be too high for a smaller practice. Keeping credit cards on file for payment generally requires a signed agreement from the patient, and it also subjects the practice to specific security rules from credit card issuers as well as HIPAA.
“A lot of physician practices shy away from doing that because of the legal issues. If a security breach happens, people are very sensitive to having their credit card data stolen,” says Gundling.
If, despite the practice’s best efforts, a patient still hasn’t paid, it’s acceptable to take the next step: collections.
“Physicians don’t feel like it’s good bedside manner to take someone to court and collections does require a soft touch, but it’s a good way to clean up some of the overdue receivables,” says Kremke.
To avoid any misunderstandings regarding collections and payment plans, Hertz says, it’s important for a practice to post its financial policies in the office, on its website and in patient communications.
“Don’t beat them up, but try to work with them when possible,” he says. “Everyone has experienced difficult financial times and I think patients appreciate when you try to work with them rather than threaten them.”
Changing financial attitudes
Beyond controlling expenses and improving collections, physicians need to shift their attitude about finances if they are going to survive in a world of more high-deductible health plans and slowing cash flows, experts say.
“Just saying you only practice medicine and are not involved in the patient’s finances—that has to change,” says Gundling. “You have to be part of the financial communication and have everyone in your practice prepared to do that. Practices have to think about how they are going to talk to patients about money.”