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Text messaging may improve patient collections


In an age when people spend more time on mobile phones than ever before, text messaging may be a key solution to patient collections.

As if physicians weren’t burdened enough with crowded patient panels and administrative burdens, chasing down payments from patients after they’ve left the medical office or hospital is a primary concern, according to a 2016 survey by Billing Tree.

Yet the same study shows that 93 percent of physicians and other healthcare providers still predominantly collect payments through the mail with paper statements, or through a phone agent (87 percent) even though more people than ever use their mobile phones. In 2018, according to the statistics blog Text Request, the average adult spends more than 4 hours per day on their mobile phones.

Meanwhile, patients are assuming a much greater share of the financial responsibility for their healthcare. According to a 2016 study on self pay and patient engagement by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMAA), hospitals have seen a 10 percent increase in patient self-pay over the five years prior to the study.

Kelly Sherbet, president of RCM for Aprima Medical Software, based in Richardson, Texas, believes now is an excellent time for physicians to begin used text-based reminders to increase patient billing collections, and to look into new mobile billing solutions that are on the rise.

“Instead of sending statements, some physicians are texting patients and saying ‘here is your balance,’” Sherbet says. “There’s an opportunity to make that payment right then and there.”

Text reminders can be effective in a way that paper statements and phone calls are not. Not to mention that the costs for paper statements are “mind boggling” she says, and they’re not even the preferred method by patients.

Sherbet says text-based billing reminders allow physicians to offer discounts as motivation to pay within a specific parameter, say within 24-48 hours of a text reminder. “You could text every few days, and then at the end of two weeks, if they haven’t responded, then you can drop a paper statement.”

She feels that texts are also interpreted as less intrusive by patients than a follow-up call. Putting herself in the shoes of patients who won’t answer a phone call from their physician if they think it’s billing related, she says. “But if I get a text, I’m going to read that.”

It’s common for patients to claim that they never received a billing statement, she says, but a lot harder to say they didn’t receive a text.

The only exception to text reminders and text pay for billing may be senior populations, she says, and physicians who deal with nursing homes. But for primary care physicians, she sees it as a step forward in billing solutions.

In addition to mobile reminders to pay a bill, a new wave of mobile payment options are cropping up, she says, in which patients will be able to make payments and set up payment plans directly from their mobile phones. “From an RCM perspective it’s very difficult to collect patient money, so we’re always trying to offer new options because it’s so difficult,” Sherbet says.

Eventually, patients may be able to handle all aspects of healthcare through mobile solutions: booking appointments, receiving appointment reminders, test results and paying their medical bills.

“Opportunities from the mobile apps, that’s the wave of the future,” Sherbet says.

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