Billing success starts at the medical practice front desk

June 7, 2018

Use your front desk wisely to prevent problems later in the billing cycle.

Problems with billing and collections typically surface at the end of the process-when claims bounce back or patients don’t pay their bills.

However, these problems often begin as soon as the patient walks in the door (or calls to make an appointment). Getting things right at the front desk can help keep your billings and collections on track further down the road.

Hire, train the right people

“Twenty years ago, the transaction at the front desk took 30 seconds,” says Elizabeth Woodcock, president of Woodcock and Associates, an Atlanta-based physician practice consulting firm. “Name, address, insurance policy number. Bang. You’re done.”

In today’s complex billing environment, that approach is a recipe for trouble. “The revenue cycle begins at the front desk,” Woodcock says, “so you need to allow plenty of time to get this right.” Woodcock recommends training all front desk employees in billing-and better yet, hiring front desk staff who already have some billing experience. Schedule these tasks separately as well. Don’t assign receptionists to billing at the same time they are making appointments and answering the phones.

Laurie Morgan, a San Francisco-based senior consultant and partner with medical consulting firm Capko & Morgan, goes a step further. She advises separating the people who do appointment scheduling and phone answering into something like a "call center.” “It could be just one or two people, off to the side of the front desk,” she explains. “The key is that their focus is on answering phones and setting appointments. The idea is to stop the front desk multitasking, especially answering phones while trying to serve people who are there in person. This also allows the person answering the phone to spend more time with caller, including checking their eligibility in real time,” says Morgan. “The staff who does this must not be rushed or distracted.”

A well-informed, focused professional at the front desk can make a big difference to patients as well. If healthcare pros are often confused about the new healthcare environment, imagine how confused patients must be. Your staff needs to be able to explain to patients what to expect. Morgan explains that saying to a patient, “Your copay is X, and it looks like you have a deductible of Y,” can make things much easier all around. The patient isn’t in for any surprises and you have a smooth opportunity to collect up front any money due from the patient.

Details, details

The reason the staff needs so much uninterrupted time for patient intake is that successful billing is all about details. Transposing a couple of numbers or misspelling a patient’s name are easy mistakes to make. But they are mistakes that can cost time and money later when claims are returned. In addition to making sure you have the insurance information exactly right, you need to make sure you have the information you need about the patient.

“Copy the front and back of the insurance card and front and back of government-issued ID,” advises Woodcock. Practice management software can also be a big help here. Some software has very useful insurance verification tools such as checking patient’s insurance status, including coverage, copays, and in some cases, the state of the patient’s deductible.

A little time and effort at the front desk can save a lot of time and money when it comes to billing and collections.