In an ideal world, when your patients get sick, they’d come into your clinic for a prescription, pay their bill and be on their way. It should be that simple.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Emergency medical expenses are generally unplanned, and that creates tough headwinds for practitioners. Consider a recent study that showed only 39 percent of Americans have enough money saved to cover a $1,000 emergency. It’s a stark reminder of the financial challenges many patients face.
Still, there are good and bad ways to collect patient payments. The healthcare industry is caught in a delicate balancing act between wanting to stay solvent while not chasing away future business, so getting patient payments takes patience.
Here are eight methods your practice should avoid when attempting to collect patient payments so that you can stick to your bottom line.
1. DON’T be a doormat.
Positive word-of-mouth is great until it financially impacts your business. For example, patients might say, “Have you heard about the clinic over on Main Street? They’ll work with anyone and you never really have to worry about paying.” That type of reputation can get costly rather quickly. While we don’t recommend a heavy-handed approach with patients, the opposite is equally problematic and expensive.
2. DON’T send your patients bills to collection agencies unless you absolutely have to.
Use a collection agency as a last resort. No matter how reputable a collection agency is, once the account leaves your office, you lose control and an unsavory debt collector could ruin your hard-earned reputation. Add to this the fact that a collection agency can charge up to 20-30 percent of the recovered revenue. Do everything you can to collect the bill in-house. By using effective tools like PatientBond to motivate patients to pay their bills, your patients will appreciate the gesture and you’ll be more likely to collect.
3. DON’T devote a bunch of staff time to debt collection.
It’s costly to use precious staff time to collect debt and leads to generally unsuccessful results, so why would you do it? Healthcare professionals should focus on what they do best: delivering excellent patient care.
Instead, leave the collecting to technology. Using a patient engagement platform like PatientBond can improve collection rates using a unique combination of digital workflows and a proprietary psychographic segmentation model. PatientBond offers automated payment reminders via text, email and interactive voice response (IVR) that provide subtle but effective notices for patients with unpaid bills. This more nuanced — and more cost-effective approach — reaps results.
A chain of urgent care centers in Arizona, for instance, switched its dated, personnel-intensive collections methodology to PatientBond and within a week saw a four-fold increase in accounts being paid. Download this case study here.
4. DON’T disrespect a patient’s privacy.
Try a preferred contact approach using PatientBond’s automated reminder tools. In a case study, an urgent care chain used simple, yet effective, reminders that resulted in 19.5 percent of patients making overdue payments in the first week of use. If you respect the patient and use preferred contact approaches based on psychographic segmentation methods, they are more likely to work with you and you’ll be less likely to run afoul of HIPAA regulations.
5. DON’T forgo payment plans.
Ten dollars a month for the next five years is better than nothing at all. If you work with patients, the vast majority of them will work with you. You can take credit card numbers or debit card information and schedule payments to be run automatically.
6. DON’T forget to encourage the patient to explore credit options.
If they are struggling to afford your services, patients probably don’t have stellar credit. But if you manage to successfully steer just one or two into a program, then the problem is off of your plate and on someone else’s.
7. DON’T forget to contact a patient if their insurance rejects a payment.
On the popular social media forum Reddit, one patient shared an account of visiting an urgent care center to have ear wax removed. The patient’s insurance copay was $15 for a visit, which he was told would pay for the visit. The insurance company didn’t cover the visit, but the urgent care center never contacted the patient who ended up with a $15 bill sent to a collection agency.
Such an incident was very preventable with automatic payment alerts, but the end result is that the patient is left to deal with a collection agency trying to collect a $15 bill. That’s an unnecessary hit on your business’s good name and a hassle to the customer over a small amount of money.
8. DON’T forget to follow debt collection best practices.
Navigate the debt collection space thoughtfully using the Fair Debt Collection Act. The minute you begin harassing patients, any desire to work with you evaporates.
Using a combination of newly available technological tools and a little TLC, you’ll amplify engagement and improve patients’ health outcomes. That’s a win for everyone.