Whether you are in group or private practice, it can be sufficiently awkward when asking a patient to open up their wallet as you jot down their next appointment time. On the contrary, ask yourself, would you accept an employer cutting your weekly to 20% less than your agreed-upon salary? No, of course not. The reality is, this money is earned and should be collected as part of your income. There are a variety of ways in which you can clean up your collections process, all of which should be designed to increase patient payment options and increase your overall collection rate.
Clear Upfront Communication
Setting financial expectations before the first session is critical in creating a clear line of communication. You or your billing company should check a patient’s full benefit before even scheduling the appointment. This way the patient knows their responsibility and there won’t be any account confusion for you when you begin receiving EOBs. The idea here is to communicate a patient’s expected contribution and make it known that it isn’t optional. There is beauty in outsourcing your billing in this particular situation, as the billing company should take care of the benefit verification and the initial financial conversation of what is expected when they walk into the office.
Many of our clients utilize the appointment reminder feature in our billing software and report back a decreased no-show rate but more importantly, the preparedness of payment. The excuses for non-payment are endless; however, the reminder through text or phone call prompts an unconscious awareness to plan for an appointment.
With the recent changes to healthcare, we are seeing larger subscriber deductibles than ever. Payment plans can particularly come in handy for patients with deductibles and patients with abnormally large copays. Provider-to-patient agreements also make the financial responsibility seem more manageable to patients who might otherwise make a case that they can’t afford to pay the full amount at all.
Create a Payment Policy
If you are in private practice, there is huge importance placed on creating and enforcing policies that you and your patients must abide by, a payment policy being one of them. If you make it clear from the beginning that services will not be rendered until balances are paid or a payment plan is discussed, you increase your likelihood of bypassing this problem all together. The longer balances are unaddressed, the less important it becomes for the patient and the more difficult it will be to collect. Avoid this altogether by having a client sign and acknowledge your payment policy before you begin services with them.
Be Prepared to Address Outstanding Balances at the Visit
In the case that a balance has gotten out of hand, it’s always recommend that you as the clinician have full understanding of that balance: the amount, how it accumulated, and how long it’s been past due. Have the balance conversation with your patient before or after the session and make them aware of where they stand. Patients can’t pay a balance if they don’t know they have one! Not only that, patients do not respond well when they learn they have a long-overdue balance. This conversation should be avoided at all costs to maintain the relationship between patient and clinician. As it does happen once in a while, best practice is to make them aware of the balance and furthermore get them on a payment plan to lessen the financial strain of one large payment.
Collecting While in the Office
It sounds obvious, but it is still the best way to increase patient collection. Collecting the payment while the patient is in office is the single most effective way to avoid outstanding patient balances. The chances of a patient mailing you a payment after the fact are slim. If the patients is only seen once and does not bring their copayment, it’s likely you’ll never receive it. Some of our clients have gotten into the habit of rescheduling ‘repeat non-payment offenders’ when they show up without payment. Even with the altruistic nature of mental health, patient collections directly affect a clinician’s salary and their ability to stay in business.
Consider a Credit Card Machine
Today, the world runs on plastic. Fewer and fewer people are walking around with cash in their pockets and expect that every coffee shop, gas station, and of course, medical office, have the means to swipe their plastic. An article from CreditKarma in January 2018 states that the average American carries between 3 and 5 credit cards with them on a daily basis. This should be proof enough that having a credit card machine will pay for itself overtime.
Make no mistake: changing your process for collections will be a learning curve, but worth the 20% plus increase in your overall salary. When applied in a way that works best for you and your patients, collections can be an effective way of increasing reimbursement and reducing overall write-offs. Create a strategy or look to outsourcing your billing and collections process to earn what is deserved.