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7 Tips to Improve Patient Self-Pay


As health care costs continue to rise, more and more companies are asking employees to pick up the costs meaning patients are saddled with higher premiums, higher deductibles and higher co-pays.

As health care costs continue to rise, more and more companies are asking employees to pick up the costs meaning patients are saddled with higher premiums, higher deductibles and higher co-pays.

Athenahealth weighed in on how practices can improve payments from self-pay patients in a recent webinar. Right now half of overall patient responsibility goes uncollected because health care payments are not among patients’ priorities when money is tight. They prioritize mortgage, insurance and utility payments. However, health care is the third most likely category to go unpaid if people are short of money.

To combat the problem of outstanding balances, athenahealth provided seven tips to improve payment collection.

1. Develop and communicate a self-pay policy

The practice should provide a policy for patients so they are clear on fee issues. According to athenahealth, this practice actually promotes better patient relationships since the policy demystifies when and how they will be expected to pay. The policy also ensures that staff members will handle fee issues consistently. Lastly, having a policy in place could act as legal protection when a practice gets into billing and collection issues.

2. Make self-pay collection part of your practice workflow

The staff should understand the importance of collecting self-pay amounts and be comfortable asking for the money owed. Not everyone is comfortable asking for money, so this should be something that is kept in mind when recruiting new staff.

3. Use all of the self-pay collection tools and technology available

If the patient agrees, then their credit card information can be kept on file the same way it is when guests check in to a hotel. For expensive procedures, practices can consider allowing patients to utilize payment plans so they can pay off the balance on a monthly basis.

Practices should also employ technology that allows patients to pay the way they want, when they want:

• Accept all forms of payment (credit cards, checks, health savings accounts, etc.

• Offer an online portal where patients can pay

• Contract a live operating service so patients can pay by phone outside of business hours

4. Consider policies and measures to encourage payment

Incentives could encourage patients to pay quickly. Things like time-of-service payment discounts on deductibles or cash discounts. However, practices can also implement measures to discourage late payments by levying an extra charge if a bill is not paid by a certain deadline.

5. Use automated reminder calls

These can help reduce debt. There are things to do before appointments, like call to confirm a patient’s insurance and also remind him or her that co-pays and previous balances are due at the time of service so they know what to expect at the office. Or practices can call after appointments just to remind and follow-up on unpaid balances.

6. Follow up on self-pay obligations early and often

Rapid follow up is essential since the likelihood of collecting unpaid balances decreases rapidly over time. After a year, it actually costs the practice more to try and collect the money than what is actually owed.

Practices should make two reminder calls per statement. The statement should not be the first time the patient is hearing that they have a balance.

7. When all else fails, employ a collection agency

Since the cost of collecting money increases as time goes by and the likelihood of a patient paying decreases, a collection agency should be sent balances that are more than 120 days overdue.

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