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Communication Strategies to More Successfully Collect Patient Payments


As patients shoulder more of their healthcare costs, practices must step up patient payment collections efforts. Here are some tips.

It's never easy to collect all of what your practice is owed by patients. But your staff's ability to do so will begin to have a bigger effect on your practice's finances.

"There continues to be an emphasis on shifting responsibility for the cost of care back to the patient," John Lutz, managing director in Huron Healthcare's strategy and advisory team recently told Physicians Practice. "Employers are increasing the number of high-deductible plan offerings to employees, leaving the responsibility to collect from the patient up to the physician's practice.”

But that's not the only reason practices need to step up their patient payment collection efforts.

The shifting emphasis toward patient payment is also likely to increase as more patients purchase insurance through health insurance marketplaces, Kip Piper, a healthcare consultant in Washington, D.C., recently told Physicians Practice.

"Many of the Obamacare plans have high cost sharing - they have high patient cost sharing, high deductibles, high copays - which means that a lot of patients are going to be paying out of pocket for at least more physician services than they were used to," said Piper. "The office is going to be asking for more money from the patient."

So what can practices do to increase the likelihood of successful patient payment collections? 

One strategy is to step up patient education and communication. The more informed patients are about their financial responsibilities and benefits, the more likely it is patients will pay in a timely manner.  

To help practices and health systems get started, the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) recently released best practice recommendations for communicating with patients about financial responsibilities.

Here are some of the best practices highlighted in the report that are most applicable to physician practices:

• Provide staff with standard language to help guide them through the most common types of patient financial discussions;

• Hold face-to-face discussions with patients to facilitate one-time resolution regarding payment problems;

• Communicate with patients about available financial assistance;

• Create policies (and make them available to patients) regarding how your practice will handle patients with prior balances;

Implement technology that provides staff with up-to-date information about patient balances, financial obligations, and insurance verification and eligibility;

• Provide patients with a toll-free number to call to receive assistance in financial matters and concerns;

• Implement annual patient financial communications training for relevant staff - including training on best practices, standard language to use during discussions, financial assistance policies, and customer service.

"For many people, healthcare financial interactions can be confusing. Complicated payment structures, dozens of different payers, various government programs and complicated forms all play a part," HFMA President and CEO Joseph J. Fifer said in a statement regarding the release of the best practices. "Because patients are increasingly paying more of their healthcare costs out of their own pockets, clear communication between healthcare professionals and patients is becoming more important than ever. For this reason, the financial leaders of healthcare organizations should welcome these best practices."

What successful patient payment collection strategies has your practice implemented?

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