Better Patient Payments for Your Practice, Patients

September 1, 2016

There are ways for your practice to get paid in a more efficient manner thanks to new technology.

There are no two ways about it: A focus on patient payments is essential for both sides of the healthcare equation - providers and patients alike. This is especially true at the physician practice level, where patient payments now make up a larger percentage of practice revenue than ever before.

One reason is the nature of the business of healthcare, which is very different from that of retail or hospitality. For example, I can walk into any restaurant and order a cheeseburger. The restaurant manager doesn’t need to know who bought a specific cheeseburger. He just needs to know that a cheeseburger was purchased. End of story.

That’s not the case at your local doctor’s family practice. The folks responsible for billing and collections need to know every service that has been delivered and billed, specifically you, which doctor treated you, which services you are specifically responsible for paying for, and which ones your insurance company is paying for.

Indeed, there are often many transactions associated with a single episode of care at different times, from different sources and even different payment types. Transaction types include copays, balance payments, installment payments, refunds and chargebacks, and others using cash, credit card(s), or a check.

All of these, moreover, must be reconciled quickly and efficiently to the bank account and practice accounting system to keep revenue flowing smoothly and patient financial records up to date. Yet the bigger a practice grows, the harder this process becomes.

On both sides - patients and providers - the payment experience can be disjointed, since most services require a copay but also may have a balance payment billed later for aspects of services that aren’t covered by the patient’s insurance. As a result, patients are often confused. Confused patients don’t pay their bills, at least not quickly. Instead, they call the practice, burdening what’s likely an already overtaxed administrative staff with high daily call volumes.

Focusing efforts on efficient patient payments can positively affect physician practice revenue in multiple ways: faster and increased revenues, lower costs to collect, more efficiently spent staff time and more.  

Technology to the Rescue

Understandably, many practices are eager to improve patient payments with technology. That said, finding the right platform is essential. While the typical practice management system, for example, enables staff to handle clinical and insurance-related items, patient payments are not necessarily native to the system. What’s more, efforts to adapt them are often clunky and not well integrated. Most every practice can collect the major payment types, but often they are processed through different systems causing major reconciliation and reporting headaches, especially in larger, multi-location groups.

Beyond the operational side of technology, practices must consider security. The first priority throughout healthcare is patient data security, and while most payment companies comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI), very few meet HIPAA standards. Every healthcare claim and payment must be attached to patient data containing protected health information. Any breach of this data is ultimately the responsibility of the provider, posing huge risks.

Physician practices can effectively reduce or eliminate the majority of such issues by leveraging a healthcare-specific patient payment platform. With such a solution, practices can automate virtually every aspect of payment collections, processing, and posting. This enables them to vastly improve the patient experience and increase payments while dramatically reducing their own costs, inefficiencies and risk.

It’s an approach the retail industry has been taking for years. Take Amazon, for example. At any time of day, a consumer can use Amazon’s platform to buy any product from anywhere from any number of different companies. Amazon’s platform is capable of accepting multiple payments on multiple cards for all of the consumer’s purchases, and distributing those payments accurately among all the vendors.

The system is efficient, flexible, and customer friendly. Furthermore, the vendors themselves can use the platform to identify what’s selling well and what’s selling least - and stock accordingly to reduce inventory costs. These are powerful capabilities, and they can work just as well for physician practices.

Imagine that a patient, Nicole, has been referred to your orthopedic practice for a shoulder injury by her family doctor in the same practice group. If your group is using a single payment platform, your staff will see that she has an outstanding balance for her general practitioner, owes a copay for her current visit and needs to set up a payment plan for her surgery next week. Staff can process all of those transactions at one time within the application. She has the option to make a payment on one credit card, or divide it between her credit card and her flex benefits account.

Meanwhile, the platform will automatically route payments and reconcile the data and dollars accurately to all parties and accounting systems. The platform also enables your practice to track when, where and how Nicole pays her bills, enhancing cash flow projection capabilities. It’s a win-win for both practices and their patients.

About the Author

Bird Blitch is co-founder and chief executive officer at Patientco. Follow him on Twitter at @BirdBlitch.