Maximize patient collections using the web

December 15, 2014

With the addition of EHRs and patient portals, many practices today are better positioned to incorporate modern processes and procedures to manage their accounts receivables more effectively, particularly by improving collections from patients.

With the addition of electronic health record (EHR) systems and patient portals, many medical practices today are better positioned to incorporate modern processes and procedures with which to manage their accounts receivables more effectively, particularly by improving collections from patients.

In addition to using the EHR or patient portal, practices can find stand-alone services that can facilitate patient payments via the Internet or telephone.

Need More Information on EHRs? Check out our EHR Tag page. 

We have found with our clients that practices incorporating these payment options have been able to reduce their outstanding accounts receivable.

The reason for this is simple: Accessing financial information and paying bills online is now commonplace, and in many respects an expectation of the customer-in this case, your patient.

Since there are many ways to establish an online payment system, there is not much value in discussing the particulars of any one system, but rather focusing on how to effectively convince your patients to engage with the online process. In order to do this, specific protocols to communicate with each patient must be established when your staff has the opportunity to do so face-to-face.

We find that many practices have not updated their financial policies and processes to communicate with patients regarding the availability and benefits of online payment options. Instead, the financial policy is often several years out of date and are from the time when options for payment were in person or through the mail.

We recommend that practices use the following strategy to help achieve patient compliance with payment policies.

Establish a point person

Identify a specific individual or team in your practice who will be responsible for communicating with your patients about your practice’s financial policies.

This may be employees at the front desk or in the billing department, or in a larger practice perhaps even a specific person whose jobs consists solely of discussing  financial arrangements with patients.

If this task is not  assigned to anyone specifically, it becomes no one’s responsibility. The financial policy simply becomes another page or two given to patients when they arrive, posted on the wall and on your practices’s website.

Given the amount of money at stake with high-deductible insurance coverage, a few minutes of face-to-face communication with each patient regarding how the practice handles the portion of charges that is the patient’s responsibility will go a long way.

Discuss with patients

The discussion with each patient regarding the practice’s financial policies and procedures need not be lengthy. It is a good idea to determine in advance the realistic amount of time staff will be able to spend with each patient.

By doing so, the conversation can focus on the most important aspects of what each patient needs to know.
For example, if there is only time to spend a minute or so with each patient, the goal is twofold:

  • highlight the most important information by circling or highlighting specific items in the policy, and

  • develop rapport between your staff member and the patient. If the patient indicates a preference for making payments online, focusing on the method for doing so should be a priority.

Next: Creating a financial policy with patients

 

Gather patient information

The practice should determine and record the following information for each patient, to help direct the conversation:

  • The patient’s email address,

  • The patient’s referred method of communication (home phone, cell phone, e-mail), and

  • the patient’s preferred method of payment.


Note: The Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act and related privacy regulations must be followed. So long as appropriate patient authorizations are obtained and communications are handled properly, having a record of the best way to communicate with each patient will be helpful in building an efficient process going forward.

What to review

The following information from the financial policy should be reviewed with each patient:

Methods
A description of how the practice handles statements for the patient’s responsibility portion of care.
For example, if statements are sent while insurance is pending prior to the patient’s responsibility being determined, or if statements are sent only after insurance is resolved.

Basically, the patient needs to know (and the billing statements should  explain) whether the patient’s balance has been determined and should be paid upon receipt of the statement.

This information should be provided in any case, but particularly when the patient has the option of making a payment online, because many patients will pay an invoice through an online system quicker than they will by check or credit card via ordinary mail. If it is unclear if a balance is due, the statement will most likely be put aside.

A statement sample
The financial policy should include a sample of the statement the patient will receive.

The sample statement should use highlighting and notations to direct the patient to the instructions for making payments online or by telephone.

Develop rapport
The practice representative who discusses the procedures with the patient should provide his or her business card and contact information as a means of developing rapport. The established rapport resulting from the face-to-face meeting will be helpful in the future if your staff finds it necessary to contact patients with delinquent balances.

For example: “Hello Mrs. Jones, this is Amy from Dr. Smith’s office. I helped you understand the payment options at the time of your appointment. You indicated a preference to make your payments online. Hopefully, you have retained the instructions we went over or are able to determine how to make an online payment based on the instructions appearing on your most recent statement. If you need any assistance, please do not hesitate to call me. I enjoyed meeting you and am always here to help.”

This kind of relationship-building will likely pay dividends going forward as your practice works with patients to ensure the best care and timely payment.