Back in the day, a medical practice could stay afloat on just the payments it received from insurance companies.
Now around 30 percent of revenue stream comes from deductibles, copays, coinsurance, says Elizabeth Woodcock, president of Woodcock and Associates, a physician practice consulting firm.
If you want to stay on top of your revenue, you have to let your patients know your policies, starting from day one.
Good collections begin even before patients arrive at your office. “Call patients before the appointment to talk about pre-authorization and benefits,” says Karen Lake, healthcare consultant with the firm Pearce, Bevill, Leesburg, Moore. “Say something like, ‘Your copay is $40, and that is due at the time of the visit.’” This sets the expectation that patients will need to bring a check or credit card, and it gets the conversation about payment started right away.
The next opportunity to communicate your billing policies is when patients arrive for their first visit. This is a good time for someone at the front desk to offer printed handouts that explain your policies.
“It’s a good idea to put your billing practices in writing,” Lake says. However, she doesn’t recommend going into a lot of detail. “Be sure to keep it as simple as possible and use bullet points. You don’t want patients to get lost in the weeds.”
Most patients also have a limited understanding of medical billing and insurance. The first visit is a great time to provide some free education.
“In addition to the standard forms, such as HIPAA forms and medical history, give patients a simple flyer with definitions of common billing and insurance terms,” says Kenneth Hertz, FACMPE, principle consultant at Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Health Care Consulting Group.
Instructing patients on how to find information allows them to go straight to the source for any billing questions. It’s also a way to get patients involved with their health and help them understand they are accountable for anything their insurance doesn’t cover.
Some practices have patients sign a form saying they understand and agree to the office’s billing practices. “This is not legally binding, but it can be very effective,” Woodcock says. “People are more likely to read something if they have to sign it. And if you have trouble collecting later, you can show them the form they signed and agreed to.”
Patients can sign payment agreements digitally on tablets and have a copy sent to their email, providing an additional level of transparency and accountability. Opting to use tablets can also make the registration process even easier, too.
For most patients, swiping through a series of forms is less overwhelming than sorting through a stack of papers. Tablets also allow customers to pay with a credit or debit card right there on the tablet, making it both easy and discrete to pay copays or make payments on outstanding balances.
Back to school
Sometimes, patients aren’t the only ones who need a bit of schooling. Your front desk staff should be trained in the basics of billing procedures and insurance.
“It is very important that billing staff and front desk employees learn about billing, insurance plans, and so on,” Hertz says. “They can’t know everything about every plan, but they need to know them generally.”
Questions can be answered and confusion cleared up right at the outset if the front desk knows the basics.
If you clearly communicate your billing policies from the beginning, you’re likely to have far fewer collection problems down the road. And in today’s billing environment, that can make the difference between running a profitable practice and going under.