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Eight Steps for Improving Patient Collections


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Help Providers Meet Patient Collections Goals

The patient collections challenge is daunting. To start, providers must ask both staff and patients to adopt new behaviors and mindsets. Patients can be overwhelmed with the many forms of rising care costs, such as higher deductibles, larger premiums, and greater patient payments. Provider teams − especially revenue cycle and front office staff − may long for the days when their main patient collections responsibility was collecting co-payments and sending patient statements. The 30 percent of revenue now coming from patients rather than insurers1 has created a sea change in revenue cycle management. Providers are completely revamping their collections strategy, seeking new solutions, processes, and technology to secure revenue from patient payments..

Amid these challenges lies a key opportunity for billing companies to assist provider clients with the heavy lifting associated with collections. This relationship can be a win-win for both parties: providers get much-needed help, and billing companies can expand their business. For this model to work, however, it is essential to employ leading technology and proven methodologies that get results in a challenging environment. In particular, strengthening collections capabilities and optimizing services to providers are two areas where improvements can help.

The first area is leveraging patient payment technology to achieve five key steps − which will help increase and accelerate collections for provider clients:

  1. Manage all clients from a central virtual location. Time is a crucial commodity for billing companies and providers alike. The minutes spent logging onto individual client sites to view the status of patient collections efforts, add new clients, or update information on existing ones can quickly add up and become large blocks of time. To that end, your billing company can benefit from a solution that enables you to manage multiple clients through a single login. Visibility across all clients helps billing company staff stay informed about any issues that arise or questions their customers may have. This high-level view ultimately saves time for your team while allowing them to obtain updates and answers quickly for provider staff. In short, it saves time with a single login, and it provides transaction summary reports for streamlined reporting to clients.
  2. Set up unique merchant accounts for each client. This important step allows for the direct settlement of funds into each client's bank account − a practice that improves efficiency, speed, and security. The hand-off of patient credit card information between the provider and billing company leaves many opportunities for security breaches. Writing this information on a piece of paper and later conveying it via phone has been a longtime practice, but it opens the door for anyone to hear confidential patient information – or worse, find hard copies with credit card numbers. Fortunately, patient payment technology has evolved to help mitigate this risk. Technology now allows staff to enter patient financial information into a unique portal for the provider client, which allows faster posting of payments while also protecting patient data. Providers and their patients can feel more confident about privacy and security, while billing company staff are more productive.
  3. Provide price transparency by generating estimates. Price transparency is evolving from an interesting trend to a must-have in healthcare; as patients' financial responsibility has risen, so has their interest and involvement in their cost of care. Billing companies can help their physician practice clients by speaking to them about implementing technology that can provide an estimated cost of care. In doing so, practices can simultaneously achieve higher collections and greater patient satisfaction. If patients receive answers about what they pay versus insurance and feel confident about their cost estimate, they may be more likely to make an immediate payment. As an added bonus, they'll potentially reduce clients' phone calls on the same subject from patients. Technology that generates estimates enables multitasking physician practice staff to have fast, accurate information – usually within seconds of the patient's request.
  4. Implement a card-on-file solution to facilitate payment and peace of mind. As consumers' payment behavior has changed, they've become more comfortable giving merchants their credit or debit card information for ongoing services such as gym memberships or newspaper subscriptions. Patients can be less sure about giving providers their credit card information because the amount they'll be charged varies from appointment to appointment. A card-on-file solution integrated with a care estimation tool allows billing companies to charge up to the amount of estimation but no more. The benefits to this solution are twofold: patients will have greater peace of mind, and the seamlessness of the care estimation and card-on-file solution will reduce administrative work for staff.
  5. Promote online payment via a patient portal. Everyone in healthcare knows post-service payments are notoriously difficult to collect. Tools such as online payment portals can boost collections because they are easy and convenient, allowing patients to act on their own time. Another important benefit: patients' online payments post automatically without any staff intervention – a win for both billing companies and their clients. Ideally, billing companies should offer a payment portal customized with the provider's name and logo. This customization builds patients' confidence in the portal, ensuring they'll use it again.

In addition to leveraging technology, the second area billing companies enable faster and greater collections is by fostering a partnership with provider clients. By sharing best practices and encouraging processes that make collections easier, collections efforts will ultimately be more effective. These three tasks may require some additional work from provider teams, but the effort can have a substantial impact on the bottom line:

  1. Prioritize obtaining email addresses. In an era when consumers rarely have second thoughts about providing their email addresses for discounts, newsletters, or other communications, providers can easily obtain them if they just ask. Encourage your providers to request patients' email addresses when making appointments, at time of service, or when they're collecting payments via phone. Ask them to use registration forms and mailed statements to collect emails; with the latter, they can also promote online payment portals and e-statements. This seemingly small step can have a huge pay-off, as it opens the door for billing companies to send e-statements in lieu of paper ones. Production, print, and postage, along with the administrative tasks of processing mailed payments, quickly add up. With email addresses on hand, staff can easily send email reminders and e-statements with links to an online payment portal. These steps can increase providers' likelihood of getting paid while promoting convenience for patients.
  2. Have the patient agree to securely store a credit card on file at the time of service. Make sure your client's team is comfortable reviewing the patient's payment responsibility and storing his or her card on file; in turn, your company can make sure this card is charged in a timely fashion. This may take the form of a one-time payment or an automated payment plan. This important process will help decrease your clients' patient days in A/R and increase their cash flow.
  3. Use technology to generate estimates for patient review and approval. Providers recognize patients are still adapting to their increased financial responsibility; however, they may not be providing printed estimates to promote better understanding. Encourage them to help increase collections with printed estimates, which give patients a credible, black-and-white view of their financial responsibilities. In addition to helping patients adapt to new insurance models and higher payments, automated estimates eliminate manual work for busy staff.

Your billing company can be an invaluable partner for providers juggling a host of priorities, such as Meaningful Use, value-based reimbursement, and ICD-10. By employing technology that fits with providers' collections strategies and promotes best practices, you can help providers maintain their financial health in this era of significant change.

i Deborah Walker Keegan, PhD, "Keep Your Revenue Cycle from Flat Lining" (webinar, Medical Practice Dimensions Inc., 2014).

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