Top Strategies for Collecting Patient Balances: From the Front Desk to Online Bill-Pay

May 29, 2012

According to Fiserv’s 2011 Consumer Billing and Payment Trends, online bill payments now account for 50 percent of all bill payment volume in the United States, while checks account for 23 percent. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to implement your online payment solution! In fact, the American Medical Association very recently published an article on the benefits of online payment systems. The AMA cites a 2011 survey conducted by Intuit Health, in which over fifty percent of American adult respondents stated that they would consider switching doctors if it meant they would have the opportunity to use online bill-pay and similar services.

If your practice is concerned about increasing dollar amounts and reducing days in AR, you must consider the percent of outstanding money that is owed from patients. Insurance carriers are increasingly shifting the burden of payment to the patients, with larger co-pays, co-insurances, and deductibles. Consider this startling reality: according to a survey conducted by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) in 2009, 23.2% of a practice’s revenue is from patient collections! Even if your medical billing company collects every dime owed by an insurance carrier, your practice will still face a significant revenue loss if there is not an aggressive plan in place for collecting patient payments.

To implement an effective patient collection strategy, consider the following:

  • The process begins at the front desk, where it is imperative that a patient’s insurance eligibility and benefits are verified, and the patient’s co-pay is collected (as a requirement, not an option). If a patient has inactive coverage, or participates with a non-par insurance carrier, collect an up-front payment from the patient. Make sure that your practice has an official protocol for when and how much to charge self-pay patients. (Consistency in this regard will help your practice maintain equal and ethical treatment for all patients, and eliminate guesswork for the front end).
  • While collecting a patient’s co-pay for their current date of service, make sure you collect any back-balance that they owe. There is no better time to collect than when the patient is already at your office, opening their wallet for their current services. Work with your billing company to get real-time information on a patient’s balance. If your billing service is not integrated with your front desk scheduler, then you will need to consistently run reports that reflect the most updated patient balance information. Train front desk staff to check for back balances and to present payment options to patients. If your staff has particular difficulty with this task, consider creating an incentive program that rewards employees for successfully collecting back balances.
  • Keep your patients educated. Inform them about insurance billing basics: what is a co-pay, co-insurance, deductible, explanation of benefits, et cetera. Just because you and your billing company toss around these terms every day, doesn’t mean that your lay patients are as well-versed in insurance terminology. Keep handouts readily available at your front desk and in your waiting room that explain these basic billing concepts. Your patients will be better prepared to understand their statements when they come. (The AMA has a helpful flyer available on their website, see: “Understanding your health insurance policy and payment practices.”)
  • For patient balances that cannot be anticipated at the time of service, it is important that you and your billing company agree on the number of patient statements that you will send a patient, and the timeliness with which they are delivered. Even though no provider likes the idea of sending a patient to collections, it is recommended that you have a collection process in place for delinquent patient accounts.
  • Make sure that you keep a valid address on file for each of your patients. You can keep a patient’s demographic file current by asking the patient to verify his or her information on a monthly or quarterly basis. Additionally, check with your medical billing company and/or patient statement vendor to see how they can assist in this endeavor. After mailing out statements, you can receive a return file that lists all addresses that were undeliverable, along with address updates for patients that have moved.
  • Finally, GO ONLINE! Present patients with as many payment options as possible, including an online option. Again, work with your billing company to integrate the billing system with an online patient payment portal. Healthcare Data Management, Inc. offers an online patient payment portal in which patients are able to view their current statements, pay their bills, update their address, and even contact our customer service representatives for billing questions. All of the transactions (via credit card or electronic check) are electronically transferred directly to the doctor’s bank account. The online payment portal simply provides a convenient, accessible option for patients to pay their bills instantly, twenty-four hours a day.

In this challenging economic climate with shifting out-of-pocket responsibilities, it is more important than ever that providers implement an aggressive, effective strategy for collecting patient balances. From the front desk to online patient payment portals, make patient collections a priority for your practice.