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How to put your collections department out of business

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Reframing collections as a continual process can minimize bad debt.

stethoscope cash | © Valeri Luzina - stock.adobe.com

© Valeri Luzina - stock.adobe.com

Finding a solution to the problem of patient collections may not be as challenging as we think — if we thinkdifferently about it. Instead of viewing collections as a one-off event, we can instead reframe it as a continual process that starts even before care is administered.

Considering a recent survey revealed that 40% of patients would either cancel or postpone care without upfront cost information, the urgency for providers to make transformative changes on the front-end is higher than ever. Fortunately, providers may find they already have the tools and technology they need to minimize bad debt later on.

Strategies to minimize collection issues

The first step to minimizing future collections issues is making the patient experience more convenient. A recent Experian Health survey revealed 72% of respondents emphasized the importance of online or mobile payment options. In light of this, a streamlined self-service payment process—including IVR, mobile, kiosk, and patient portals—is essential to encourage timely payments.

Secondly, a system needs to be in place to identify which patients are at risk of non-payment and then recommend additional or alternative financial pathways. An efficient system will determine which patients qualify for financial assistance and which ones have the propensity and likelihood to pay—at or before the point of care. This will enable providers to offer personalized payment plans and recommend relevant financial assistance programs.

Finally, it's essential to identify any potential gaps in coverage that could later impact collections. Automated solutions currently exist to screen patients for Medicaid, charity, or other assistance programs prior to service. They also allow providers to evaluate payment risk, ensuring a more effective collections policy and less bad debt. Considering that, according to reports, more than one million people have lost their Medicaid coverage since continuous enrollment ended earlier this year, it’s vital that providers have a tool in place to catch any gaps in coverage—and a plan for helping those who no longer qualify.

Easing the burden of collections

When collections become problematic, a few timely actions can make the process more efficient.

One effective strategy is to screen out patient accounts that are unlikely or unable to pay, focusing your energy and resources instead on more viable ones. High-performing collections teams implement automated processes and AI to pinpoint these types of accounts. Once identified, teams can take quick action—either by removing these accounts from the AR file entirely or assigning them to a specialty vendor. This streamlines the process, ensuring that the focus of the collections team remains on accounts with a realistic likelihood of payment, maximizing both efficiency and revenue.

To improve patient communication, consider implementing automated messaging. Provide bill reminders via secure, cloud-based dialing software, offering queue callback options to keep hold times to a minimum. You might also consider touchless text messaging. This can maximize in-house collections while ensuring compliance standards are met. Automated campaigns can further increase efficiency and revenue.

Redefining collections

The conversation surrounding collections needs a paradigm shift. It’s time to move away from the notion of collections as a one-off, manual, and labor-intensive process. Instead, let's view it as a part of an ecosystem that begins before patients receive treatment, starting with upfront, self-service payment options and early screening of patients for potential coverage. In this way, we can transform collections from a destination into a process—and perhaps, by doing so, we can even put our traditional collections departments out of business.

Clarissa Riggins is Chief Product Officer at Experian Health, the leading provider of revenue cycle management and patient engagement solutions for providers, physician groups and payers.

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