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10 Steps to Faster Payments

10 Steps to Faster Patient Payments

  • Medical practice
  • No Comments
  • M Tschandl

Now more than ever, practices need to improve the way they process patient statements to maximize payments received. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in the use of high deductible health plans (HDHP), patients have been even more hesitant to pay their portion of their medical bills.

For this reason, practices must emphasize the education of patients about their responsibility and improve patient statements among other payment-attaining tools. In this post, we provide 10 steps to faster patient payments and boost your cash flow. By taking these steps, practices will see an increase in on-time payments and improved cash flow.

1) Create Coherent Patient Statements

Medical bills can often be confusing for patients who are not familiar with them. When you send medical bills and the recipients are confused, collecting from them will be harder. More often than not, confusion brings the payment process to a halt.

By eliminating any confusion around the patient’s responsibility toward the bill, difficult patient collections will decrease.

The solution is to create a patient statement that is easy to read and understand. Make clear what the patient’s obligation is. While it is important to show what portion of the bill the insurance provider is taking on, statements should highlight the portion that the patient is responsible for, what you expect the recipient to do, and by when.

Therefore, design your patient statements so that the recipients:

    • easily understand the medical bill,
    • know who sent the statement to them, and
    • easily identify the best way to pay the bill.

First, putting your name and practice logo on the statement lets recipients know who this statement is from. Next, using a clear structure and colorful text can draw your patient’s attention. Help them see right off the bat that this is a medical bill, what they need to pay, and how they can pay the bill. Consider posting a sample patient statement near the front desk for patients to get familiar with it. When they receive your bill, they will quickly recognize it.

2) Educate Your Patients

Several years ago, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a survey among Americans with private health insurance. The purpose of the survey was to uncover how well the insurance holders understand four basic traditional health insurance concepts. Those concepts are copay, co-insurance, deductible, and out-of-pocket maximum. The survey showed that only 14 percent of all respondents accurately understood all four concepts. How about your patients?

The key to decreasing difficult patient collections is to offer your patients every opportunity to become educated on health insurance and their medical bills. Start by helping your patients understand the basics of health insurance and their financial responsibility.

Discuss financial responsibility with patients before treatment. You could also create a list of services and/or a list of insurance plans that you noticed have caused the most confusion among patients in the past. Post those lists near your front desk or in your waiting area.

Patients who understand their responsibility and the responsibility of their health insurance carrier are more likely to pay their bills faster. Educating your patients on their medical bills will offer them peace of mind as they face possible financial hardship caused by an unexpected medical expense.

3) Communicate Your Practice’s Payment Policy

The purpose of a practice’s payment policy is to inform patients about the practice’s financial set of rules. It puts your expectations in writing. Help your patients to understand them, and encourage patients to pay at the time of service.

Make sure you address at least the following elements:

    • When is payment due?
    • Who is responsible for payment (patients with/without health plans)?
    • How does your practice handle co-pays and deductibles?
    • What forms of payment does your practice accept?
    • How does the practice deal with late payment?
    • How does the practice deal with nonpayment?

Have a legal expert review your financial policy before publishing it. It is much easier for patients to understand your expectations and follow your set of rules when they are clear and well communicated.

4) Send Patient Statements Quickly

Create and send patient statements as soon as possible after you have rendered services. This increases the chances that patients recall the details of the treatment and pay their bills. The longer you wait, the less likely patients are to pay.

5) Emphasize Online Statements

While practices have used paper statements for decades now, many patients expect more from their providers. Today, most bills are issued electronically and/or are available online. This includes phone bills, cable bills, even energy bill statements that have converted to a digital format. While it is understandable that medical providers provide paper patient statements, they need to offer alternative access as well. This includes access to patient statements via the patient portal.

Research shows that digital access to information increases the level at which patients engage in their medical care. This includes their medical bills. Make patient statements available online while sending paper statements as a means of security.

6) Provide Online Payment Options

As people are used to the convenience of making purchases and paying bills online, having to call the office or write a check, lick an envelope, and find a stamp could cause patients to procrastinate on making their payments.

Set up an online portal for patients to pay their bills. Direct patients to this service by clearly listing the website URL in your patient statement. Make it even more convenient for returning patients to make payments by encouraging them to store their credit cards on file. By doing so you offer a convenient service, improve the patient experience, and get paid on time.

7) Offer Payment Plans

The ongoing pandemic may cause financial hardship to your patients. This may, even more, be the case as billed amounts rise due to increased use of high-deductible health plans (HDHP) and resulting out-of-pocket expenses.

Help your patients know their options and offer them a payment plan to break down a single payment into several installments. Keep in mind that payment over time is still better than no payment at all.

8) Track Your Claim Status and Your Accounts Receivable

Tracking claims, rejections, and denials are a critical aspect of generating revenue. You need to follow up on each claim so you don’t repeat the errors that caused rejections and denials in the first place. Most practices ignore this because processing especially denials is time-consuming.

Moreover, you need to also keep track of the status of all patient payments. Statistically, the likelihood that you will ever receive a patient payment drops by about 8 percent per month.

Therefore, keep a proper record of all statements issued and all payments received to have a good understanding of your accounts receivable. Proactively tracking your accounts receivable allows you to follow up as soon as invoice due dates have passed and to prioritize payments (30, 60, or 90 days past due dates). Tracking your cash flow is vital for the financial health and success of your practice.

9) Remind Patients to Pay Their Medical Bill

People live busy lives and have a lot on their minds. It is no surprise that they sometimes forget to do their chores. Setting a payment due date is one thing, but remembering it is another.

You stand to increase your collection rate by sending follow-up reminders to patients via multiple touchpoints, such as mail, email, text messages, and phone calls. Having to send out reminders manually or call patients one by one can put a lot of strain on your resources. Use an efficient practice management software that allows you to automate these patient communications to increase the cost-efficiency of your operation. In the end, a properly set up reminder service can help you speed up your entire revenue cycle.

10) Train Your Office Staff

Your staff plays a vital role in patient communication and making patients settle their bills fast. Try to collect as much money as possible during the check-in process and while the patient is in your office. Good communication can make a big difference.

Have your front desk staff ask the patient at every appointment “How will you be paying today?” instead of “Would you like to pay today?”

Put protocols in place for as many frequently asked questions as possible and update them as situations change. A consistent approach of your staff is important.

While you should continuously encourage patients to pay online whenever they are not in your office, you still want to accommodate those who prefer to pay over the phone. Train your front desk staff to make phone payments quick and simple.

You could also create a list of frequently asked patient questions about health insurance and a patient’s financial responsibility. Post it near your front desk or in your waiting area.

Keep Your Patients’ Contact Information Up to Date

Although there are official ways to let you know that patients have moved, not everyone utilizes them. If someone moves before receiving their bill, it will be harder to collect from them.

Sending a medical bill through the mail that’s addressed to someone who no longer lives there will come back to you. If this happens, it is your responsibility to find the correct mailing address, resend the bill and collect payment.

Start by collecting all returned patient statements and reach out to patients to retrieve their current addresses. Related to that, review your check-in process to find out whether you could have caught the address change before sending the statement. Just like you should check the insurance eligibility before every appointment, you should verify the patient’s current address at each visit to your office. Have your front desk staff ask the patient at every check-in “What is your current address?” instead of “Has your contact information changed?”

Conclusion

The main takeaway from improving the patient payment process is that there isn’t one step that, when implemented, will solve all your collection issues.

Instead of being aggressive in your collection efforts, focus on more convenience, service, and automation. Educate your patients and make it as easy and convenient as possible for them to pay you. Use tools for claim tracking and follow-up. The fewer barriers of entry your patients have to pay you, the easier it will be to collect patient payments.

Does your practice face a challenge with patient payments? What is your biggest obstacle? Contact us if you have questions or need advice. We are happy to help.