10 Strategies to Enhance Patient Collections

 

Are you frustrated trying to get your patients to clear their outstanding medical balances? Then you may have no other choice but to hand them over for collection.

Many healthcare providers have a hard time dealing with unpaid bills and outstanding medical balances. They find themselves between a rock and a hard place in the sense that they want to retain their patients, but at the same time want to compel patients to pay their bills.

The failure of patients to settle their bills means that most providers end up sending these accounts for collection.

The good news is that you do not have to go down this road. All you have to do is revamp your patient collection strategies to reduce the number of pending bills. 

The following 10 strategies will help prepare your patients for collections and prevent outstanding balances from spiraling out of control.

  1. Get To Know Your Patients

One mistake that healthcare providers often make is not taking the time to get to know their patients, either during scheduling or at the time of service. However, not familiarizing yourself with your patients is a missed opportunity for you to increase your bill collection.

 

In any case, the entire process of billing and payment collection begins at the front end. After registering the patient, you have to establish the type of service they need, and determine the cost of acquiring these services.

By knowing your patients, you can easily establish whether they are able to pay for care services. Moreover, you can confirm with their insurer if the service required by the patient is covered.

You will also be able to discern a patient’s deductible and whether the patient has met them. Most importantly, you can create a scheduler to remind patients to prepare to make payments, especially when planning for costly services such as surgery.

  1. Be Transparent About Your Prices

According to a study by TransUnion Health, two in three patients do not pay their medical bills in full. What is even more alarming is that most of these bills add up to less than $500 per patient.

Nevertheless, this does not come as a surprise. One of the reasons why many patients do not pay their bills is that they do not know what they are getting into. 

Planning for medical expenses is challenging, meaning that patients are likely to skip payments if you are not upfront about your prices. By being transparent about your rates, your patients will know in advance how much they ought to pay to receive specific services.

Moreover, regarding the increase in annual deductibles, patient responsibility has also increased in equal measure. This means that your clients have to face bigger medical bills when they visit your practice, and they are required to pay a huge chunk of this out of their own pockets.

The hard truth is that many patients cannot afford out-of-pocket expenses. However, if you inform them about your prices, you can have a candid discussion and establish viable payment plans.

  1. Share your Billing Policy with Patients

Besides being upfront about your prices, you should set up and share a clear billing policy with your patients. As discussed earlier, the likelihood of your patients paying their bills is much higher if they know what to expect when seeking healthcare services.

However, setting up a billing policy is more than just posting the prices of available services in your facility. Designing a billing policy entails the following:

  • Specifying dates you expect payments to be made
  • Detailing charges for late payments
  • Highlighting any discounts offered for prompt payments
  • Listing acceptable payment methods
  • Indicating the address where patients can send payments
  • Adding your contact number and email address for queries

Many providers do not realize this, but having a clear billing policy can go a long way in building customer loyalty. In essence, you will be able to retain more clients, thanks to your clear, transparent billing policies.

Furthermore, sharing your billing policy with your patients simplifies the payment process. This increases the likelihood of prompt payments by your clients given that everything is clear to them.

  1. Improve Communication with Patients

Communication is crucial when it comes to preparing patients for payments and collections. Lack of proper communication between healthcare providers and patients can lead to negative outcomes, including economic consequences (unpaid medical bills).

With this in mind, you need to correspond with your patients constantly, reminding them about the due payments, without infringing on their rights.

Besides asking for payments, you should follow up on the progress of your patients as far as their health is concerned. This way, they will feel valued and have a highly positive opinion about your practice.

If your patients feel valued, they are more likely to respond to your request for payment of their outstanding balances. Moreover, your open-door policy will allow your patients to discuss their financial position and their ability to pay with you.

From these discussions, you can come up with practical payment plans tailored to fit each patient’s ability to pay.

Interestingly, setting up proper communication channels is not as difficult as it might seem. You can start by providing a phone number or email address that patients can use to discuss their financial concerns with you.

  1. Create Payment Reminders alongside Appointment Reminders

Another viable way to improve your patient collection strategies is to create payment reminders when scheduling appointments. In essence, when confirming an upcoming appointment, have your staff remind your patients about any unpaid balances.

As you are certainly aware, most healthcare services that involve surgery and the management of chronic conditions, require multiple hospital visits and frequent medical refills. 

This is an ideal opportunity to remind your patients to clear any outstanding balances before their next visit. Ask your billing employees to explain the various options to the patients as far as their bills are concerned.

In addition, be upfront and make it clear to your patients that you expect them to pay outstanding balances before their next appointment. Find a friendly, but professional way to convey your message to ensure that you do not lose customers.

Importantly, make sure you inform defaulters that they risk being handed over for collection, but give them ample time to settle their bills before enlisting a collection agency.

Most patients will be willing to settle their due accounts if you are upfront, transparent, and professional. 

  1. Call Slow Payers Regularly

The general rule of thumb when collecting medical debts is that you should avoid chasing non-paying patients. After all, every call made or letter sent can take a toll on the fiscal health of your practice.

As much as you would like to recover debts owed to you, it costs money to continuously call or send mails to non-paying patients. However, this is not the case when it comes to slow paying patients.

Slow payers are not defaulters. This demographic refers to patients who have large outstanding balances, but they are still making an effort to pay, albeit slowly. 

Now, slow payments can make it quite difficult for you to balance the books. For this reason, it is important that you re-evaluate how many times you contact slow payers. Keeping in touch regularly will remind them of their obligations and help reduce the number of outstanding balances.

Nevertheless, make sure you only contact those patients who are paying, or are willing to adhere to your set payment plans. In addition, ensure that your correspondence is sent during business hours to avoid infringing on the privacy and rights of your patients.

  1. Simplify the Payment Process

One of the reasons why some patients may avoid settling their medical bills promptly is that the payment systems put in place at your facility could be complex, cumbersome, and time consuming.

Therefore, if patients are required to pay their medical bills in a timely manner, then you have to simplify the entire billing and payment process.

Many healthcare providers use one or two of the eight basic payment methods available to the medical fraternity. Unfortunately, most of these payment systems are complex and they may plunge your patients into a financial maze.

To simplify the payment process, you have to start by listening to your clients. Many patients want to make payments in one place rather than fill out multiple forms and log into various portals. 

Considering this, you should have a centralized patient portal where patients can easily make payments online using their credit cards or platforms such as PayPal. Most importantly, the patient payment portal should be secure and mobile-friendly for easy access.

The key thing to remember here is that if your billing and payment processes are simple, you do not have to hand your patients over for collection.

  1. Invest in a Billing Management System

Technology has made it possible for healthcare providers to enhance the efficiency of their billing and patient collection systems. You can now easily send bills to your patients via email or using text messages.

Nevertheless, while using payment technologies is a step in the right direction, this is not enough. You should invest in a billing management system to streamline your collection processes.

Billing systems can perform a wide range of tasks, such as generating and sending statements to patients, tracking pending bills, creating payment reminders, and automating late fees.

Even though installing a billing management system can be costly at first, the return on investment justifies the amount of money you have to pay to have one in place. Billing systems can greatly increase your patient collection rate if implemented properly.

  1. Offer Viable Payment Plans

Preparing your patients for collections is undeniably a tough task. In any case, it is very hard to request payments on-site from a patient who is already suffering from various ailments.

The only reprieve is that most patients are usually willing and motivated to pay their bills, if you are ready to offer them a viable payment plan. 

Paying large medical bills soon after treatment can be exceedingly challenging for many patients. Consequently, offering payment plans is the way to go if you want to enhance your collection rates.

Nevertheless, this option should only be available to self-pay patients who have large bills and are unable to settle the entire outstanding balance right away.

  1. Enlist a Reputable Debt Collection Agency

Enlisting a debt collection agency is sometimes inevitable, especially if you are dealing with patients who are essentially defaulters or not willing to clear their outstanding balances.

However, before handing your patients over for collection, give them ample time to settle their outstanding balances. The standard time is usually 90 days, but you can discuss establishing a practical payment plan with your patients, one that fits their ability to pay.

During the 90-day period, you should send three reminders (one for each month), requesting the patient to pay their outstanding debts. 

Make sure that the reminders inform your patients of the consequences of defaulting on their payments. If the patient fails to comply, you may then send them to collections. 

The good news is that hiring a reputable debt collector will save you from the ignominy of having to chase non-paying patients. The collection agencies are professionals, and they know how to handle non-paying clients courteously and without infringing on their rights.

So what should I do next?

Well, the fiscal health of your medical practice largely depends on billings and collections. Regrettably, many healthcare providers seem to ignore the significance of this aspect, following the current trends.

Fortunately, this does not have to be you. If your practice is struggling with poor billing, and collection strategies, then it’s high time you revamp your billing systems and retrain your collections staff.

Obviously, requesting money from a patient who is already suffering is a huge challenge. However, you should stand your ground and stick to your collection policy since the existence of your practice depends on it.

In case you face more difficulties collecting outstanding patient balances, know when to enlist the services of a debt collection agency. This will ensure that you are able to guard the interests of your medical practice, as well as retain your clients/patients.