Thursday, August 8, 2013

Collecting Patient Balances: Time to Reevaluate and Adapt

collecting patient balances
When it comes to collecting patient balances, methods that worked well just a few years ago might not be as effective in the current economic downturn. Many patients are struggling to pay their regular bills, and an unexpected doctor bill only adds to the load. Some patients may have lost jobs and health coverage; others may have had to cut back to plans with higher co-pays and deductibles.
It’s time to review your collection policies to see how you can adjust to today’s economy.

Consider ideas like these:
  • When setting up a payment plan, exercise flexibility that considers each individual’s situation.
  • Make it clear that terms are negotiable, and stress that you want to help patients, not just get their money.
  • Emphasize credit card payments.
  • Set up automatic bank drafts from patients’ accounts.
  • Take your time filing claims at the beginning of the year before annual deductibles are met - let other providers worry about collecting those larger balances.
  • Offer discounts—for example, reduce a bill by 10% if the patient pays the whole balance.
  • Limit the amount of credit you will extend to each patient.
  • Consider developing a “concierge” practice.
  • Pre-collect co-pays and deductibles before treatment when possible.
  • Consider contracting with a creditor that pays the balance and then collects directly from the patient.

This list of ideas for improving cash flow during a recession runs the gamut from simple policy and procedural adjustments to a radical practice makeover. However, one theme runs through the entire list: Reevaluate and adapt. After working hard to develop a solid billing office, many practices stop reviewing their policies and procedures. They monitor the processes to make sure staffers continue to follow procedure, but don’t question the established procedures.

In general, you can safely follow a philosophy based on the old axiom “If it ain’t broke, don’t
fix it,” but changes in your business environment can sometimes render tried-and-true methods ineffective. If your cash flow has slowed significantly - in spite of your staff’s diligent efforts -it’s time to reconsider some of your methods.

As you review your policies and procedures, ask these questions:

  • What factors keep patients from seeking needed
  • medical care?
  • How can we encourage them to keep coming
  • in for medical care?
  • What factors prevent our patients from paying
  • their balances due?
  • How can we help them manage payments and
  • satisfy their accounts?

Be open-minded and creative as you think of ways to project an image that says, “We’re on
your side. We want to help you.” Make concessions, search for resources, and give patients many options for managing their accounts. You’ll very likely improve your collection rates - or at least mitigate the decrease during tough times. And even better, you’ll develop a loyal patient base that won’t soon forget your kindness and service.

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photo credit: kenteegardin via photopin cc