Re-tooling your revenue cycle to make it more efficient can go a long way in improving your specialty practices’ financial performance. As mentioned in the previous blog, a key area of opportunity is patient collections. The growth in high-deductible health plans is pushing patients to pay more out-of-pocket for their health care. In response, practices should be implementing processes and various technology to consistently collect these payments. Otherwise, money will be left on the table.
Here are three strategies for improving the patient collections process.
Ask for Payment Upfront
Health care providers are more likely to receive patient co-pays and deductibles if they ask for them at the time of service as opposed to waiting until after the encounter ends. Plus, this is a less labor-intensive method for collecting payment. By developing protocols that clearly define when staff should ask for payment, providers can increase the reliability and effectiveness of this task. Staff should be trained on these policies, including the timing of the ask and how to approach the patient in an informative, compassionate and respectful manner. Practices may also want to designate a specific staff person to work with those patients who are hesitant to make payments, taking them aside to discuss specific concerns. Not only does this give focused attention to anxious patients, it also streamlines check-in.
Provide Patients with an Estimate
For those patients who are scheduled for a procedure, it is beneficial to give them an upfront cost estimate that details how much they are going to owe. This allows patients to plan accordingly and can even prompt at least partial payment right away. An automated estimation tool can make this a straightforward process. With a push of a button, staff can run the estimate and provide a printed copy to the patient. If individuals are concerned about the total cost, this may be a good time to introduce the idea of a payment plan. While practices can administer payment plans on their own, there are also vendors who specialize in facilitating these financial transactions.
Make it Easy for Patients to Pay
There are many technology options that can encourage patients to meet their financial responsibilities. At the very least, practices should accept credit cards for payment. Ideally, staff should be able to charge the card at their desk without having to walk to a central location, which can introduce potential privacy and security issues. Some organizations are using credit-card-on-file (CCOF) solutions to further ease patient payment while increasing reliability. With this technology, patients share their credit card number, which is securely stored on the practice’s revenue cycle management system. The patient agrees that the provider can charge up to a certain amount once the claim has been adjudicated and the patient responsibility fully determined. Finally, organizations should offer the ability to pay online. Consumers are used to paying for things over the Internet and have come to expect that ability from their healthcare providers as well. This can be done through a patient portal or other web-enabled tool.
Launching a patient collections program will not only drive revenue and improve cash flow, it will also boost patient satisfaction. Patients will be more comfortable making payments if they know your practice is on top of things. This increased satisfaction, along with a greater propensity to pay, will reap substantial benefits for the practice in the long run.
To learn more about revenue cycle optimization, see our previous blog "Revenue Cycle Management 101: 3 Key Focus Areas" and keep an eye out for upcoming blogs in our RCM series that will dig deeper into related topics plus provide tips and actionable strategies to consider. Stay tuned!