Down at the furniture store, a customer who wants a new sofa must either pay for it up front or apply for credit - usually provided by an outside loan company. That means filling out an application and authorizing a credit check. If you can’t qualify, you don’t get a sofa - period.
Now you can live without that new sofa - but not receiving medical care could literally cost you your life. Because today’s culture generally accepts healthcare as a basic human right, providers attempting to collect patient balances run the risk of appearing heartless and greedy. No wonder we have to play by a different set of rules!
For most medical practices, the greatest weaknesses in revenue cycle management appear in the area of patient-balance collections. Physician ambivalence about the ethics of demanding payment can prevent the practice from establishing reasonable policies and enforcing them consistently.
So before you revise your policies and procedures, before you review the latest collection tools and services, determine what you believe to be right and wrong about collecting from patients. Make sure you and your partners are comfortable with asking patients to pay a fair price for services rendered.
If you struggle with finding your comfort level, consider approaching collections similarly to the way you approach a patient’s medical problem: Take a “let’s solve this together” attitude. Instruct your staff to develop a posture of helping patients settle their accounts rather than one of demanding payment. Convince your patients that you’re on their side, and they’ll place a higher priority on paying your bills.
You have to do more than “talk the talk” if you want your patients to believe that you want to help them. Make sure that your billing staff has the resources necessary to be helpful. And grant them enough decision-making authority to be flexible with individual patients’ situations, too.
- Involve your surgery-scheduler in the process.
- Estimate co-payments at the time of precertification, and make prepayment arrangements.
- Accept credit cards at every stage of collections - from the check-in counter to the private statement.
- Set up electronic funds transfer options with your bank so you can take non-credit-card payments over the phone.
- Participate with a medical credit company.
- Offer prompt-payment discounts to uninsured.
- Offer to match in-network co-payments for patients who see you on an out-of-network basis.
- Consider creating an income-based sliding-fee scale for patients with very limited income.
- Instruct your staff to research all available medical assistance programs and learn how to help patients apply for aid.
- Create a financial policies brochure for patients that outlines your philosophy and describes the resources you offer for patients facing medical bills.