Let’s face it; no one wants to send patient accounts to collections. It’s embarrassing for patients and a legal minefield for urgent care billing departments. At the end of the day, most urgent care providers just want to provide good patient outcomes regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.
A good financial policy can help your urgent care billing department reduce the number of patient accounts you send to collections, starting right at your front desk.
You might think reducing the number of patient accounts you send to collections starts with your urgent care center’s billing department, but it actually starts at your front desk. The actions of your front desk staff can set a patient up for success or failure, so it’s vital you have a strong financial policy that your staff is very well trained to follow.
When a patient arrives at your urgent care center for medical treatment, your front desk staff should verify the patient’s insurance eligibility right up front to see if they have valid insurance or if they need to collect a self-pay balance in full based on whatever your self-pay rate is. A good urgent care practice management (PM) software will have a real-time eligibility feature built right into it. If the patient does have valid insurance, your front desk staff needs to be trained to collect any applicable copays or coinsurance before any services are rendered. Don’t expect the patient to pay that copay or coinsurance after services have been rendered; train your staff to collect the amount up front.
You should also add a credit card pre-authorization feature to your urgent care practice management software. This technology allows your front desk staff to swipe the patient’s credit card to place an authorization on their account for the expected self-pay charge amount. This grants your urgent care’s billing department permission to charge the patient’s credit card as soon as the balance becomes patient responsibility, ensuring the bill gets paid even after the patient leaves your center.
If a patient has a balance from a previous visit, your urgent care center should have a financial policy to collect that balance before you render any new services, otherwise your center will develop a reputation as a “free clinic” where the community can come to receive medical care without paying. This can be really damaging to your center’s reputation and, ultimately, bad for your center’s bottom line. Your PM and urgent care billing software should both have ways to flag these patient accounts so staff are alerted when these patients check in at your center.
In some states, your financial policy can add the collection agency fee to the cost of the service if the balance goes to the collections. For example, if your collection agency charges 25 percent, you can have the patient sign off on the financial policy that, should the balance go to collections, the patient will be responsible for paying the additional fee. This is prohibited in some states, so check the laws in your state before adding this to your financial policy.
Reducing the number of patient accounts your urgent care billing department sends to collections might start with your front desk, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Every single one of your staff members, from the front desk to your medical providers, should be trained on how to have financial conversations with patients. Providers do have to talk to patients about their bills, oftentimes at moments when they least expect it. Sometimes it’s in the middle of an exam, but other times a patient will recognize a provider at the grocery store and will ask them about a bill they received. At the very least, all staff members should be prepared to direct patients to the correct resources where they can find answers to their questions.
It may seem like unpaid patient balances are out of your urgent care billing department’s hands, but a good financial policy and consistent staff training can help reduce the number of patient accounts you end up sending to collections. Not only will this increase your revenue and decrease your bad debt, but it’ll make your patients much happier, too.