Medical billing can be the "elephant in the room" when it comes to dealing with patients. Tricky as it can be, however, it's important to maintain lines of communication with patients, particularly since more patients are paying a larger portion of their medical bills despite more people having insurance.
This means you can't shy away from gathering all necessary information you need for maximizing what you collect through your medical billing processes. It's best for all parties to know as much as possible about patient financial responsibility from the start, because it can prevent miscommunication and confusion once patients open their bills. Here are 5 critical questions medical practices need to be asking patients in order to improve patient payments.
1. Do You Know About Our Online Payment Portal?
First of all, if you don't have an online payment portal you need to get one. Second, make sure your patients know about it! The convenience of online payments for patients cannot be underestimated. According to InstaMed's annual report in 2011, Trends in Healthcare Payments, 70% of patients are interested in making payments online. By not allowing your patients to pay online you are hurting your cash flow and disappointing your patients.
If your payment portal allows patients to set up payment plans, so much the better. Payment plans will encourage those patients that are struggling to pay their entire bill by allowing them to make small payments over time. Identify patients with no insurance or high deductible plans and set up a payment plan before they even leave your office.
Allowing patients to use an online payment portal will also save your practice from having to pay for resources like paper, toner, and postage. Mailing just one patient statement can cost the average medical practice between $5-$8 when considering the employee’s time spent on preparing the statement, the cost of the envelope, paper, postage, and printing costs. Think about that: If you send 400 statements each month at $5 each, that is $2,000 each month or around $24,000 per year in avoidable costs.
2. Has Your Insurance Changed Since Last Time You Were Here?
It's easy to assume that a patient has the same insurance they did when they were in six months ago, and forgetting to ask can throw a wrench into your medical billing process. The front desk staff is responsible for checking the patients insurance information to make sure it is up to date. Most practice management systems and clearinghouses can verify patient eligibility. If you are struggling with checking patient eligibility you may want to research other practice management options. A 100% pre-visit eligibility verification is attainable and should be a goal for all medical office managers.
Always asking for the patient's insurance and verifying the eligibility will help your practice prevent rejected and denied claims which can cost you substantial amounts of money. Set goals for your front desk staff and make sure they are meeting them when it comes to things like insurance verification and eligibility.
3. Did You Know You Have a Past-Due Balance?
Patients may not be aware that they already owe you money. Particularly if they have extensive medical needs, a bill can easily become lost in a flurry of mail from doctors and hospitals. If patients don't know about existing balances, or don't know you know about them, they're not going to pay them. Broaching the subject should be done either when the patient signs in, or during the process of scheduling an appointment.
To prevent this confusion from happening in the first place, collect the payment or setup a payment plan while the patient is in the office. If they leave and haven't paid, have someone from your practice call that same day to remind them of their payment.
You should also invest the time into making reminder calls and sending out reminder emails to patients. Some people are simply forgetful and need to be reminded. Having a staff member make reminder calls to patients isn't very cost effective. However, your practice management system should give you the option to automate calls, send text messages, and send emails. For the best results, we recommend 2 reminder calls per statement cycle and 2 reminder emails per statement cycle.
4. We Estimate Your Out-of-Pocket Costs to Be $X. What Payment Method Would You Prefer?
Patients may not like hearing that their estimated out-of-pocket cost will be $300, but they prefer knowing up front to being surprised by a bill in the mail weeks later. If your medical billing software, or software provided by insurers lets you estimate the patient's estimated costs, it's best if you provide patients with this information right away. Let them know which forms of payment you accept too, so they'll be ready with a check or credit card.
5. Do You Understand Our Payment Policy?
Having a payment policy and posting it in your office are both important tasks, but they're not sufficient if you want the smoothest medical billing process. When patients schedule an appointment, you can direct them to a web page with your payment policy or offer to email or mail a copy to them. When all parties understand the "ground rules" from the start, there are less likely to be unpleasant surprises when it's time to pay.
Two of the most difficult subjects to talk about are medical needs and finances, and if you operate a medical facility you deal with both issues at the same time every day. Keeping the revenue cycle on track and keeping your patients informed of their payment options requires taking steps at every phase of the patient encounter. Asking important questions of patients when they schedule an appointment and when they sign in acknowledges the sometimes difficult topic of payment, and provides your practice with multiple opportunities to communicate with patients on how they can meet their out-of-pocket obligations.