In some ways, collecting directly from patients can be harder than dealing with payers. Here’s how to make it work.
Recent trends toward high deductibles and copays means medical practices are more often responsible for collecting fees directly from patients. Collecting this money is essential, but you don’t want to alienate your patient base by being a heavy when it comes to collecting fees.
Here are a few ideas for how to make your collections both effective and painless-without turning you into the bad guy.
Make it clear
You’ll have a much easier time collecting what patients owe you if you make your payment policies crystal clear from the beginning. If you collect copays and other fees at the time of service (and it’s highly recommend that you do), don’t wait until checkout to explain this to patients.
If you don’t make new appointments until all outstanding fees are paid, inform patients of this as well. State clearly when you will turn over payments due to collection agencies, and other similar policies.
“This information is a part of our new patient info pack,” says Alina Collins, office manager at First Coast Family Medicine in Jacksonville, Fla. “Patients sign an agreement at the very beginning, so they know what we expect.”
Most patients want to pay their medical bills; it’s easier for them to do so if they know right from the start what is expected of them.
Make it easy
“Anything that makes it simple and easy to pay, it a great investment,” says Laurie Morgan, a San Francisco-based senior consultant and partner with medical consulting firm Capko & Morgan. “For example, using tablet [computers] at check-in can show patients what they currently owe and give them an easy way to sign up for a payment arrangement if they need to.” Not only does this make it more likely that you’ll get paid, it shows respect for your patients in that it offers a private and less embarrassing way for them to make payment arrangements.
Some practices have had good luck keeping a credit card on file for patients. You can arrange to have a set amount charged to the card each month, especially for expensive procedures. “This can be very helpful with pregnancies or when someone needs surgery but is worried about the cost,” says Morgan. “Patients don’t want to end up owing $2,000 at the end. This way you can charge a portion each month and offer a relatively painless way for patients to pay.”
Keep it impersonal
When patients don’t pay, you have to decide how far to push for the payment. “If patients are not responsive to your request for payment, if they’re not returning your calls, you’ve probably already lost the patient,” says Morgan. “Stop wasting money trying to collect something you’ll never get.”
Collecting from patients might take a bit more finesse than working with insurance companies and CMS, but with a few good strategies and some understanding, it can go well.
When you do collect, make sure you do it consistently. Collins runs a report every week; when a payment is three months past due, it automatically goes to a collections agency. If you’re very clear about this policy upfront, there should be no hard feelings from patients-and the collection agency can be the bad guy.
"It's nice to not have to deal with that," says Collins. "And the telephone doesn't ring so much, either."