When medical practices look back over their billings for 2018, many will find they lost the most revenue collecting directly from patients. Deductibles, copays, and self-pays can be difficult to collect.
If you want to improve your practice’s bottom line in 2019, adjusting how you handle collections might be the smartest—and easiest—New Year’s resolution you can make.
“Many doctors think that the industry hasn’t changed,” says Karen Lake, healthcare consultant with the firm Pearce, Bevill, Leesburg, Moore. “They think patients pay a $25 copay and they’re done,” she says.
But cost sharing between insurers and patients has grown dramatically in recent years. According to research by the Kaiser Foundation, the average general annual deductible for single coverage increased from $303 to $1,221 between 2006 and 2016.
Most practices spend a great deal of time and effort keeping up with changes in billing practices and regulations from their payers. However, when it comes to collecting fees directly from patients, many practices are behind the curve.
Here are four ways you can collect more from patients next year.
It’s important that your front desk verify insurance at each visit and know what the patient’s responsibility is. There are many different plans out there and a staggering array of options for copays and deductibles for a single payer, and not all providers within a practice accept the same plans.
“Even with one carrier say, Blue Cross, each patient’s plan might be different,” Lake says. “Even the same employer might offer many different packages, such as some with lower premiums and higher deductibles.”
Make sure you—and the patient—know from the outset how much the patient is responsible for and what’s covered. For example, many payers cover lab charges only when you use a certain lab. Be sure to review all the details.
Be proactive about collections.
This sounds obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. You’re trying to have good relationships with your patients. Coming across like a collection agency doesn’t help.
Add it to the script for staff to remind patients of any outstanding balance when you call with appointment reminders. Lake suggests having someone at the front desk who patients know make the calls. After reminding them of the appointment, say in a friendly way, “I see that you have a $45 balance. Please bring that payment when you come in.” Better yet, ask them to make a payment over the phone.
It’s easy to toss or ignore a paper invoice. It’s much more difficult to skip out on paying someone you know and will see at your next visit.
Plan in advance.
If a patient is facing a bigger bill, such as for a surgery or procedure, set up a payment plan in advance, Lake advises. Communicate to the patient what the copay for this procedure will be, say, $500. Then explain that figure doesn’t include other charges, such as those from the hospital or anesthesiologist.
Get the patient to sign an agreement to pay the deductible in installments. This will help prepare patients for the costs—and avoid the sticker shock that can damage patient relations. Sending the bill early will also put you in the front of the billing line.
Use a credit card service.
Some experts advise against keeping patient credit cards on file due to the privacy and potential security risks. However, you can keep that info on file while also limiting your liability.
“There are third-party systems that hold credit or debit cards but do not charge them until the insurance has responded,” Lake says. “Then they send an email letting patients know that in three days their card will be charged whatever the balance is. You don’t hold the credit card information; the third-party company does.”
The third party is responsible for the legal risks, but Lake advises working with a reputable company if you opt for this service.
If you’re ending the year in the red because of collections, these simple tweaks could put you back in the black in 2019.