December 19, 2018
In just a few short weeks, you’ll have the opportunity to set patient collection goals and A/R priorities for the new year. If your patient receivables have been climbing due to higher patient deductibles, 2019 is the year to move toward time of service collections.
Here are 5 success factors for making proactive patient collections work.
1. Update your policy for collecting office services and surgery deposits.
Explain in writing what patients will be asked to pay, and when. This is especially important as you communicate the new rules to established patients, who may not have ever been asked for anything up front other than a copay.
For example, explain that patients will be asked to pay their visit copay at check-in, and any unmet deductible and coinsurance at checkout – up to their plan’s allowable for the X-rays, injections, or other services provided in the office. Clarify too, that you’ll be collecting these same financial responsibilities prior to surgery, if the physician recommends it as part of treatment. Details about your payment options, payment plan guidelines, and what happens if patients have a financial hardship, are also important.
Get all physicians to agree to a unified policy and communicate it to the entire staff. Asking staff to follow a different set of rules for each physician will not result in collection success.
2. Expand your payment options.
In addition to “cash, check, or credit card,” offer automated, recurring payments by credit card or checking account as a way for patients to pay off their surgery deposits and past due balances. Patient financing is another must-have in today’s high deductible health plan world. CareCredit, for example, pays the patient’s balance in full then deals directly with the patient for pay off. Your practice pays a small service fee and the receivable is off the books; no statements to send, no staff follow up calls.
To make the payment of past balances convenient, many practices offer online bill pay, a common patient portal feature. Some also offer text-to-pay, or the integration of the Solution Reach text reminder service with CareCredit. The latter allows cardholder patients to pay using CareCredit from within the appointment reminder text.
3. Set expectations with patients at the first phone call.
If patients get all the way to checkout or the surgery counselor never having been told that they’ll be asked to pay, many won’t be prepared. Train appointment schedulers to explain your time of service collection policy and quote a range of fees. Remind patients in appointment confirmation and reminder emails/texts of your payment options and that they’ll be asked to pay for office services at check-out. And, include all of these details on your web site.
4. Give staff tools and data so they know how much to collect.
Provide front desk staff with a grid of plan allowables for the practice’s top plans, for the most common E/M, injection, X-ray, test, and other service codes. Without this data, they won’ know how to calculate what patients owe.
In addition, make sure all front desk staff are trained and have access to look up a patient’s past due balance in the practice management system, as well as check remaining deductible amounts, and run eligibility checks.
5. Train staff using scripts and role-playing.
Reviewing new policies and protocols is a good start, but training and coaching are required for staff to fully understand and integrate the new philosophies and processes into their daily workflow. Written scripts are essential for ensuring everyone on the team consistently follows collection guidelines. Create scripts to help staff explain what patients can expect to pay, to quote fee ranges on the phone, and to respond to patient objections such as “That’s a lot of money,” and “I can’t afford that.” Use the scripts to role play various scenarios during staff meetings and team training sessions to increase staff confidence and foster team learning.
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