Recent government and industry reforms have created an environment where patients must shoulder a higher share of their medical costs. One result is that many practices’ medical billing revenues are being affected by drops in cash flow, particularly during the first half of the year when many patients still need to meet deductibles, leaving them faced with more out-of-pocket expenses.
The front desk makes the difference
An Advisory Board Company survey showed that only 13 percent of respondents gave an “excellent” rating to their front desk’s collection efforts. If your practice has been having post-visit collection issues, it may be time to evaluate your front desk’s policies and procedures. What steps can a practice take to ensure that payment will be made at the time of service without alienating patients? Here are 5 tips to consider when evaluating your front office’s procedures:
1. Consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) are in use by more than half of all, as reported in a survey by the National Business Group on Health. In addition to CDHPs, there is a rise in health exchange patients who are entering the health system enrolled in high-deductible health plans, making collecting payment at point-of-service more difficult. When confronted with the plans, it is essential to know whether the practice is part of network, for example, as well as what’s covered.
2. Confirm insurance coverage. Your front desk or scheduling personnel need to gather as much payer information as possible at the time of the appointment, before the actual visit. Running an eligibility check is now a must! Even if the patient has previously given this information, they may forget to update it if they have changed jobs or had other changes since their last appointment. The office needs to know whether the deductible has been met, whether there is a copay, and if so, how much. The patients’ actual balance should be part of the information-gathering effort as well.
3. Collect payment from self-pay patients at the time of service. It may be uncomfortable for staff to politely but firmly insist on payment, especially when dealing with established patients who may be experiencing financial problems. However, providing a general “script” for the front desk employees to follow, such as one used by a Boulder, Colorado hospital, can tactfully help get the point across. For those who are unable to pay in full at the time of visit, offer to have them sit down with the office’s financial counselor to work out a payment agreement.
4. Credit cards can be one of several payment options. Now that many patients are paying as much as 30-35 percent of their medical expenses, offering various payment options such as keeping credit card information on file, can help ease the financial burden on patients and families. Other solutions may include setting up a monthly payment plan, use mobile devices for bill payment as well as patient portals where patients can make payments and access their medical information.
Patients who responded to a survey concerned with why they were not paying their medical bills indicated that lack of payment options, particularly for those who are self-pay, as well as confusing invoice statements as major factors.
5. Communicate effectively both among office staffers as well as with patients. Good communication helps reduce mistakes within the office as well as patient cancellations. Patients appreciate transparency in their financial obligations and knowing their account balance and what’s owed.
Finally, consider outsourcing your Centricity Medical Billing Services. One good way to reduce billing and collection headaches is to work with a professional billing service, Health 1 offers a full array of billing services with financial metrics that rank in the 99th percentile.