Medical practices are under pressure from so many formidable factors – dwindling reimbursements, crammed schedules, changing healthcare laws and regulatory requirements – that sometimes even the simplest efforts to improve financial performance end up on the low end of your priority list (if they make the list at all).
One example is patient education. It’s a no-brainer that a fully informed patient will likely be a happier one and be more likely to show up on time, pay in full, and follow their doctor’s orders. But due to a lack of time, resources, or knowledge, medical practices often give patient education little attention across the board.
Each department inside your practice can and should embrace patient education to incur a positive impact on revenue. Here’s how each area of your office can better communicate and educate patients to help boost your practice’s overall performance.
The Front Desk: Clearer Conversations About Collections
The clerical staff who greet and check in your patients are the front line of your revenue stream, so it’s critical that they have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to inform patients about their payment responsibilities and collect every balance due from every patient, every time.
It should be clearly communicated in your front desk signage and office policies that patient insurance information is checked, updated if necessary, and verified before every patient encounter and that all co-pays are due at the time of service. Train your check-in staff to help patients actually understand their co-pay responsibilities – not to just ask for the money.
Then, make it very easy for front desk staffers to be able to see if an incoming patient has an unpaid balance before they arrive at your office, and instruct them on how to firmly but gently collect. Your team should be armed with all the information a patient needs to understand why they owe a certain amount – when a procedure was performed, when an invoice was sent – and to communicate the consequences of non-payment. Recurring issues should be escalated to the office manager.
The Exam Room: Education About Outcomes
It’s critical for patients to understand the value of their care and the scope of their physicians’ plans for treatment. Placing an educational focus on outcomes with every visit and highlighting each patient’s potential for success can make a monumental difference in their experience with your practice.
Patients who are well informed are more likely to comply with a provider’s recommended treatment plan, which can lower their cost of care by reducing readmissions or lessening their need for emergency care. But the benefits of having an engaged and educated patient base go beyond just being beneficial for the patient – they can actually benefit your practice’s bottom line.
Well informed patients who are active in managing their own health usually don’t have to return multiple times for the same conditions, meaning they don’t bog down your appointment book with follow-up consultations. Instead of spending several appointments treating the same issues you’ve discussed with a patient time and time again, you can focus on the kinds of complex clinical issues that tend to lead to higher reimbursements.
The Back Office: Helping Patients Have Fewer Surprises
The hardest type of medical bill for a patient to pay in full is the one he’s not expecting. Episodes of “sticker shock” – and the drawn out payment timelines that result – are common because the healthcare billing environment is often opaque for patients: a survey by TransUnion Healthcare found that majority of patients either rarely or never received an estimate of out-of-pocket costs before they received treatment.
The only way to solve this problem is for practices to better educate patients about healthcare costs up front, which requires a commitment to bringing billing out of the back office and into the forefront… or at least incorporating it into a stronger aspect of your office process. One option for better incorporating billing and financial education into your practice is to work with an outsourced medical billing service. A medical billing company will likely understand the revenue cycle better than anyone in your short-staffed office and is a quick phone call away when a practitioner needs to discuss potential costs of care with a patient as they design a treatment plan.
Informing patients about their payment responsibilities ahead of time can give them the choice of opting for a treatment or not, or can help providers suggest possible health plans that better suit the patient’s needs. Consider whether working with a medical billing service may help you provide better education to your patients to help your practice succeed.