Smart Communication Tactics For Getting Paid & Reducing Bad Debt

February 27, 2018 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Practice Management, Medical Billing Company

According to survey results from technology company West, 56% of patients’ payments are delayed at least some of the time, for any number of reasons.

High deductibles have a lot to do with it: 42% of patients state that they delay payments for medical bills because of unexpectedly high charges. Another segment of patients stalls due to confusion: 30% delay bill payments because they are confused about what expenses insurance covers and what they owe.

Given those statistics, it’s easy for providers to place blame on payers for the problem (since it’s the insurers who set the deductibles that are surprising or confusing patients). But there are plenty of other factors at play: 36% of patients find it hard to remember to pay their bills on time, and younger ‘Millennial’ patients find it twice as hard to remember as non-millennials (54% vs. 27%).

Even though cost and financial hardship are significant drivers of non-payments or stalled payments, patients themselves acknowledge that doctors can do better: A full 85% patients feel there are strategies providers could use to encourage and help them pay their bills on time.

What strategies? Plenty of them exist, and (quite frankly) they all start with simply acknowledging the problem.

If you’re not straightforward with patients about payment, the continuing prevalence of high-deductible plans (and the rise of Millennial patients) will only make your revenue challenges harder in the years to come. Use these three no-nonsense pointers to get smarter about getting paid.

Ask About Ability: Can the patient in front of you afford the treatment you’re about to deliver? Doctors (focused as they are on the encounter or procedure itself) rarely find out: Only 23 percent of providers make it a habit to always discuss each patient’s ability to afford healthcare prior to delivering services, and 36% say they never ask.

Leaving the payment concerns for later is recipe for losing out on what you’re owed. But initiating the conversation is actually pretty easy: So long as your team (or medical billing service) is conducting eligibility checks in an automated way, co-payment and other cost information can easily be integrated into appointment reminder calls, emails, or text messages. And in the exam room, doctors can open up a dialogue about expenses as they select a course of treatment.

Remind Them! Since patients find bill payments so easy to forget, practices can (and should) make them a lot easier to remember. In addition to reminding patients of their financial responsibilities up front, before they come in, text reminders and robo-calls can be used to notify patients that payments are past due.

Only 15% of providers currently send messages – either by phone, text, or email – to explain bills and let patients know what portion of the cost is covered by insurance. Making your practice part of that (growing) percentage will help you keep patients, especially Millennials, more accountable.

Increase Engagement: In addition to stalling payment due to surprisingly high charges, plenty of patients are putting off care altogether due to cost concerns. A full 75% of patients admit that high insurance deductibles impact how often they get preventive screenings or tests (or whether to pursue care at all).

In that sense, boosting your communications with patients – about payments, and everything else – is important not only to getting paid and reducing debt, but also to maintaining your financial health. To keep a full appointment book in the years to come, consider engaging patients in new ways using tech-enabled communications; text reminders, email newsletters, and well-maintained websites and social media profiles can help you stay on patients’ minds (and help keep them engaged about the importance of coming to your office).


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