3 steps to simplify patient payments

August 3, 2018

Most patients want to pay their bills. Here’s how you can make it easier for them to do so.

These days, it is both easier and more difficult for patients to pay their medical bills.

Easier because they can pay with a credit or debit card, pay online or in person, or by phone. More difficult because medical bills aren’t always easy to decipher, and healthcare is both expensive and often an unexpected expense at that.

But if you look at the problem from your patients’ point of view, you may discover how to make it more likely they will pay on time.

Train your staff

For your billing staff, copayments, deductibles, discounts, and adjustments are the language of daily life. For patients, however, that can be a completely foreign tongue.

This means that for many people, medical bills are practically undecipherable. And who wants to pay a bill when they don’t have a clue what they’re paying for? At the same time, you have to be clear about what you are and are not billing for.

According to says Kenneth Hertz, FACMPE, principle consultant at Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Health Care Consulting Group, the best way to deal with this is to make sure the people who collect payments are able to explain the bills. “If the front desk collects money, they need to be trained in billing so that they can understand and explain to patients the complexities of the bills,” he said.

Hard-to-fathom statements are usually the result of your EHR. If you want easier-to-read statements, you may need to ask your EHR vendor to provide them. Hertz recommends the following strategy: “If you ask if they can change the statements, they will say ‘no,’ so instead ask, ‘What would it take to get a statement that’s easier to understand?’ It might be something as manageable as a one-time programming fee. Or they might say, ‘we’ve had lots of requests like this, we’ll look into it.’”

As with any other tweak to your EHR system, remember that you are the customer, and ask for what you need.

Educate your patients

Medical bills aren’t the only things that confuse patients. Insurance policies don’t make for easy reading either.

Barbie Hays, coding and compliance strategist for the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP),  says she advises medical practices to educate their patients about benefits and billing, and encourage their patients to read the explanation of benefits provided by their insurers and match up the charges with their coverage.

You certainly aren't expected to help your patients compare and contrast insurance plans, but educating them about how deductibles and copays work and defining some of the arcane terminology of medical billing can make the process easier for everyone. "Good communication really is key," says Hays.

Make it accessible

Even when they understand what they’re paying for, patients are busy.

“You need to make it as easy for patients to pay you as it is to buy something on Amazon,” says Hertz. These days, many people prefer getting online statements and paying bills online (via your patient portal). If you have online check-in and accept online payments, patients can pay their co-pays before they even come to the visit.

Using tablet computers for check-in can make it easy for patients to pay copays and any balances due while they are sitting in the waiting room with nothing else to do. Of course, make sure your portal and card processing systems are in compliance with privacy and technology regulations.

If you take a few steps to make it easier for patients to pay, you may find that collecting becomes easier for you, too.