Perfect your collections to increase revenues

March 10, 2012

Collections are an important part of your business, but it's easy for the system to be ineffective. Learn about how to optimize your office's cash inflow.

Key Points

In today's healthcare system, the copayment is a large part of the compensation for services rendered, and it offsets a portion of the cost of care. For example, if 15 patients a day do not pay a $20 copayment, then you'll lose $300 daily. Assuming you work 200 business days per year, that's $60,000 annually.

YOUR FRONT-DESK STAFF

It helps if your staff members make it clear to patients that failure to make a copayment constitutes a violation of their contract with their health insurer. That knowledge may help patients accept the copayment process.

Keep in mind that it is rarely cost-effective to understaff your office. If your front-desk workers deal with too many tasks, they might not be able to handle collections effectively. This situation also can negatively affect your practice's bottom line.

DEVELOP A FINANCIAL POLICY

Your practice should put payment and billing policies in writing and make those policies available for all patients to read and sign. Your office staff should know and enforce these policies. This protocol should specify how billing and collections are handled within your practice and indicate whether you are going to levy finance charges and interest. If you do impose finance charges and interest, your office must comply with state and federal regulations applicable to charging these fees.

Once again, it is essential to learn more about insurance programs and understand copayment requirements. Practice managers should monitor collections and establish effective ways to help staff in this area.

Effective and consistent communication with patients regarding payment expectations is important. This communication entails:

ESTABLISH THE MONEY CONNECTION

Do not let patients accrue bills without making payment arrangements. Patients need to be made aware that shirking copayments is a direct violation of their insurance contract and could be considered fraud. Of course, at times you might choose to defer or even waive a copayment-if, for example, a longtime patient is experiencing financial difficulties. You need to alert your staff to any exceptions, however.

Because patients lose the motivation to pay once they have left the office, placing a sign stating that copayments and/or deductibles are collected at the time of service is one more reinforcement of your office protocol.

Ask new patients to sign an agreement indicating that they agree to follow your office's financial procedures. This action will further enhance their understanding of your practice's financial expectations. Remember, in all other situations, consumers are expected to pay at the time of service. A medical office should be no different.

Beyond protocols, require your staff to call patients by name during office visits and ask patients for payment politely and respectfully. Above all, instruct staff members not to argue with patients. They might win an argument but lose a patient.

The author is president of International Medical Billing Management & Consulting in Punta Gorda, Florida. Send your feedback to medec@advanstar.com
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