Submitted by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME on Tue, 08/30/2016 - 8:00

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Rethinking Your Collection Strategies for High-Deductible Plans

As high deductibles increasingly become the norm among employer-sponsored and individually-purchased coverage plans alike, practices face greater financial pressure than ever to collect patient balances rather than count on payers to pony up the lion’s share of payment. According to some healthcare experts, nearly a third of medical practice revenue now comes from individual patients – marking a significant shift from the just 10-15 percent around ten years ago.

Unfortunately, though, the newly heavy-handed collections responsibility requires a different skill set than many medical practice staffers possess. Even the most experienced administrative professionals can have a difficult time taking a hard line with patients who are struggling financially; and “firing” repeated non-payers is a hard decision for even the most rules-driven healthcare organizations.

As such, many medical practices need to re-assess their medical billing and front-desk operations to ensure patient collections stays top-of-mind. After all, 30+ percent of your revenue is no amount to neglect; no matter how insignificant a $20 co-pay may seem in the moment, repeatedly letting patients off the hook adds up quickly.

Revisit Your Strategies, and Make the Right Tweaks

Look at your typical collections process, start to finish and note all the touchpoints where your staff interacts with patients without discussing costs. At each of those engagement points, ask yourself if your practice would be better served by bringing up the patient’s individual payment responsibility.

For example, many practices have long avoided discussing collections at any point in advance of the patient encounter – simply waiting until check-out to collect. Perhaps there’s a better way; consider whether your practice could send a co-pay or co-insurance reminder as part of the appointment reminder (after conducting the verification check, of course) or move the collection time from post-visit to check-in. Each injection of financial real-talk can help you increase your odds of getting paid.

Formalize a Policy (No Matter How Small Your Practice)

Every practice, large or small, should have a defined collections policy, separate from its broad financial policy. Given how sensitive the patient collections process can be for employees, simply putting collections rules down on paper and disseminating them to staff members serves to formalize the fact that such rules exist (and will be reinforced by management).

Your policy should outline firm instructions on how and when your staff should collect payment from patients. By leaving the decisions up to individual staff members themselves, you risk letting inconsistent collection practices waste your time and wreak havoc on your bottom line.

Train, Train, Train

Armed with a formal policy, you’ll have a much easier time educating new employees on how to handle the collections process. Set aside a clear amount of time to go over your document (and any other associated details, such as how to log payments in your medical billing system or record books) with each and every new hire, and encourage them to follow the policy to the letter.

And don’t let your existing hires off the hook. Many of your more seasoned staffers may be inclined to make collections decisions on a case-by-case basis or be adhering to expectations from a more low-deductible era, where that 10-15 percent total wasn’t so crucial to your financial performance. Revisit company-wide collections policies in a staff-wide training session one to two times per year, at minimum.

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Topics: Meaningful Use Stage 2, Practice Management, Medical Billing Company

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