Climbing Out of the Pool of Unpaid Patient Payments
By Hanny Freiwat
Feel like you’re swimming in unpaid patient invoices? It’s a common problem in physician practices today. In fact, when a patient leaves the office without paying, 79 percent of those fees owed end up going uncollected. Studies have shown that it’s not that patients don’t want to pay, but that there isn’t a convenient option for paying. In this changing landscape, healthcare operations have not quite caught up with consumer-centric technology needs and expectations. You can change that for your practice.
Here are four easy ways for physician practices to increase patient payments before the end of the year, decrease accounts receivables, and avoid high bad-debt rates.
Number One: Offer an easy-to-access online payment link on the practice’s website. If you already have one available on your patient portal, ask your accounts receivable manager how many payments come through there. If it is near zero, which is the case with most practices, find an easier way that doesn’t require a user name and password. Look for payment partners who understand HIPAA and PCI compliance, and set up a link today. Make sure that you advertise the new payment link on your invoices and in the office. Patients and guarantors want convenience – not more passwords to remember. This solution should take one to two hours to implement, in addition to the research time.
Number Two: Add a card-on-file policy to your existing financial policy, complemented by any pro bono services you offer. Find a technology and payment partner who has a PCI-compliant service and implement it immediately. The solution should be patient friendly and have a limit on how much you can charge their credit or debit card. Train your staff on usage, and more importantly, on having the conversation with the patients before they get the service. If your patients are not willing to vault (secure) a card on file with you, there is a good chance they will not pay the bill. This solution is more involved and can take 10-15 hours to implement due to integration and staff training.
Number Three: Validate the patient’s insurance eligibility days prior to the service date, or at least when the patient walks in if you’re an urgent care clinic or similar walk-in practice. Make sure that the technology you’re using is delivering the data you need for your specialty and not a generic data dump. Use that data to determine your risk and the amount you should collect at the time of service, and how much to vault on your card-on-file solution for post-claim collections. If you’re not sure how much copay you should collect, vault a card on file to avoid confusion and refund expenses. This solution should be available through your current EHR and PM systems. If not, start thinking about getting a complementary solution as soon as possible. With ACA and MCOs, this is more important than ever. You need a “Know Your Patient” solution in place in 2016 or expect to get double hit by narrow networks and confused patients. Depending on your practice size, this could take as little as a week or as many as two to three months.
Number Four: Get on the cutting edge and look for other ways for your patients to pay. Medical mobile bill pay and price estimator vendors are out there. Find and partner with those that understand your patient needs. This might sound foreign in healthcare, but we’re all consumers and know how to use the tools. Time spent to implement this will depend on the solution and vendor you choose.
Going forward, look at your job descriptions and make sure that you have financial counseling and payment collections as part of the duties of your scheduling and front office teams. Fully implementing this strategy will drive your patient responsibility revenue to near 100 percent. In addition, you should see savings from less billing and less traditional payment collections. Once you fully make the shift, you and your staff will be free to get back to the business you love – caring for patients.
Hanny Freiwat is president of Wellero in Portland, OR.