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Co-opt Patients into Your Collections Process


Practices can no longer afford to be remiss about collecting outstanding patient balances, as high-deductible health plans are forcing patients to pay more.

Attorney Stephen Dickens is a senior consultant with State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based, professional liability company. He is also a former medical practice executive and immediate past chair of Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

Jeff Wood is vice president of product management at Navicure, Inc., a provider of medical billing software solutions, based in Duluth, Ga. 

They are co-presenting at the MGMA 2015 Annual Conference in Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 14-18. Their session will be focused on developing strategies to help practices collect a greater percentage of receivables from patients who are now covered by new insurance products such as high-deductible insurance plans. Physicians Practice recently spoke with Dickens and Wood about the strategies practices could use to better-collect patient balances in a two

-part interview. Below are excerpts from part one:

Physicians Practice: Are practices feeling the effect of new high-deductible insurance plans, such as those sold on the health insurance exchanges?

Jeff Wood: A lot of practices are feeling urgency in terms of the amount of their receivables that are coming from individuals as opposed [to ones] from insurers, from payers. So certainly that awareness is building, but we are in some cases surprised, because there's many who have not felt it yet. [Practices] finally wake up and say, "Hey wait a minute, you mean almost a third of our collectibles are coming from individuals and not from payers?" And it really surprises people that that's the average we are seeing: around 30 percent to 33 percent of receivables coming from individuals.

PP: Can you tell us why developing better patient collection processes is so important?

JW: So what we are talking about is how to modify your practice's work flow and collections process to really focus around patients. Historically, the focus has been on the payer side of the house and obviously that made a lot of sense when you had 90 percent of your receivables coming from payers and 10 percent from patients. But now that it has grown to 30 [percent] or a third of receivables coming from patients.

PP: What is the first thing practices can do to improve their collection process?

Stephen Dickens: Where we generally start with these folks is going through their processes, and as Jeff points out, we want to bring the problem to their attention. Usually, they don't look at the analytics of their data and so we'll start with dashboard reports. Here are the things that you should be looking at. This is going to tell you where your collection problems are. And it becomes fairly obvious pretty quickly if they are not getting their bills out in a timely fashion, if they are not following up on their bills, or, if their problem is in patient collections.

PP: When the best time to collect from patients: pre-service, time-of-service, or post-service?

JW: We feel that collecting at the time of service is really the ideal time. Once people walk out of the office, the ability to collect starts to erode, and [surveys show] that … the value of a dollar sort of erodes the longer it takes to collect from individuals. So if you can collect at the time of service, in order to do that, you typically want to utilize a tool like a care-estimation product, or a patient bill-estimation product. So that the practice can at least give some form of an estimate of how much the cost of care will be.

Part two of this interview can be found here.

Stephen Dickens, JD, FACMPE, and Jeff Wood are featured speakers at MGMA. Their session, "Reorient Your Patient Collection Strategies Around Your Patients" is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 12, from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. CT.

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