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Revenue Management - Are You Collecting at the Time of Service?

Oct 27, 2016

According to a report from the Medical Group Management Association, physician practices collect only 60 percent of patient co-payments on average. That is a lot of money left on the table.

The good news is that your front desk staff doesn’t have to crack their knuckles to collect more – but they do need to crack down. This starts with establishing clear and consistent expectations for payment.

Memorize Your Lines

It should come as no surprise to patients that taking care of co-pays and outstanding balances is expected at sign-in. So the question to ask is not if they will be paying, but rather how they will be paying. Of course, you walk a fine line. The goal is to collect money – not alienate or humiliate your patients. A good mantra is, “firm, yet kind.”

Start by developing a script for time-of-service collections that guides your front-desk staff. For example:

It’s nice to see you, Mr. Jones. How would you like to meet your co-pay today – cash, debit, credit or check?

Also, let me look up your account so we are both up to date on any current balance you may have.

You can take the training a step further with some role-playing. This is a powerful way for employees to learn and can make for a great team-building exercise. Gather your staff, bring in lunch and have fun with it. Practice with some of the more typical patient exchanges, including these:

Patient: “I am pretty sure I have already met my deductible.”

Staffer: “Our records show that you still have $640 outstanding toward your deductible. I am happy to find you a private room so you can call your insurance company and verify.”

Patient: “I forgot my credit card. Can you just bill me?”

Staffer: “I wish we could, but your co-pay is set by your insurance provider and we are required to collect it as part of the agreement. Let me see what other options we have for you today.”

Discuss as a team whether –and in what cases – you will ask patients to reschedule if they are insistent they cannot pay. Of course, reinforce the need to be courteous and sympathetic with a smile. Jump into the trenches and practice with your team. The goal is to make these collection conversations second nature for everyone.

Catch Up on Balances

Check-in is also the time to collect on overdue balances. You may be able to use your appointment reminder software to update administrative staff when patients with outstanding bills have upcoming appointments. They can then contact the patients and remind them to bring payment.

And don’t forget to promote your patient portal as a payment option. It’s easy to add credit card and other online payment options to your portal. Online payments tend to be a natural for most patients, many of whom already pay for non-healthcare services online.

Update Your Financial Policy

To meet the unique demands of high-deductible health plans, you may need to modernize your practice’s financial policies. In addition to spelling out that payment is due at the time of visit, the policy should also cover these key areas:

  • Payment of deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance and previous balances
  • Payment related to surgery or other large-dollar charges
  • Interest or fees charged for collection and/or use of a collection agency
  • Statement process and delinquency determination
  • Billing of patient’s insurance
  • Assessment of late fees and/or interest

If your practice performs high-cost procedures, you should determine whether a procedure is covered for the patient’s condition prior to the visit. If it’s not covered, you and the patient can make arrangements for a payment plan before the visit.

In a worst-case scenario, if you have a patient who balks at meeting his or her financial responsibilities, instruct front desk staff to say something like this: “I’m sorry but we’re going to have to reschedule your appointment because, according to the financial policy you signed, you agreed to make payment prior to seeing the physician.”

No Need to Get Heavy

No one likes to be the heavy. But the reality is that collecting money at the time of service is more important than ever in this era of substantial deductibles and co-pays. Crucial to all of this is making sure that every member of your team is onboard, trained and empowered with the right tools to collect at the time of service.

Healthcare Practice Strategies - Fall 2016

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