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Seven Tips to Prevent Patient Accounts from Falling into Collections

While collection agencies can help urgent cares expedite patient payments, the real goal is to improve your processes to be sure you seldom have a need to call on an agency. Use these seven tips to prevent your accounts from falling into collections.

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Introduction

According to the Urgent Care Association (UCA), the average cost of an urgent care visit is around $150–and these costs don’t generally add up unless a patient uses urgent care as an alternative to primary care, or a clinic hasn’t established effective billing and collection practices. With some exceptions, implementing standards and training staff to adhere to policies will go a long way to keeping patient accounts from requiring a third-party collections effort.

Educate and Communicate

In a world where insurance changes from year to year, patients are often confused about their coverage and patient responsibility, especially with high-deductible plans. Make it standard procedure to explain patient responsibility at the time of the visit so patients aren’t surprised with the cost at the time of the visit. If possible, provide a cost estimate. Healthcare is one of the few industries in which people agree to a service without knowing the cost. The more information you can provide them will help them understand and pay promptly. If after you explain their responsibility they still have questions, provide them the contact information of their insurance carrier or direct them to their company’s benefits department for further explanation.

Verify Eligibility and Contact Information

When a patient checks in be sure your front desk staff verifies insurance eligibility and requests a “best phone number” and email address. If a patient relocates, their cell number and email address are most likely to stay the same.

Check for unpaid balances when patients check-in

When a patient checks in be sure your front desk staff verifies insurance eligibility and requests a “best phone number” and email address. If a patient relocates, their cell number and email address are most likely to stay the same.

Share Billing Policy with Patients

Set standard payment policy and be sure it’s clear to both your staff and your patients.

Ask How-Not if-A Customer Would Like to Pay for Service at the Time of Visit

Securing a payment on the front end results in lower balances to collect on the back end. To make payments convenient, get a credit card on file and a signed release from patients to charge their balance (with max limits) to their card after their insurance claim is closed. For customers who anticipate hardship with the bill, offer a payment plan, auto-recurring monthly payments, and promote online bill pay. In some states, clinics are offering self-pay discounts for patients that pay in full at the time of their visit.

Review Accounts Every Fifteen Days

In order to stay ahead of AR, administrators have to know the status of patient accounts. Regular review of accounts will help you identify potential problems, check and apply insurance payments, track denials, and be sure a billing and collection plan is in place. As an account ages, chances are it will be harder to collect.

Prompt billing and efficient collection take time and attention, but it’s time and attention well spent when it improves your revenue cycle and bottom line. Consider offering employee incentives based on collection success. When it comes to the actual invoices, consider removing the aging buckets so patients don’t think 60 or 90-day terms are an option. Replace the aging stages with Due Now or Payable on Receipt. Make the second invoice Past Due and follow up with a phone call to establish a time frame and payment plan.

Train Staff

Be sure your entire staff is prepared to do their part in the collections process. Your front desk should ask for payment at the time of service and be sure all patient and insurance information is up-to-date.

Anyone contacting patients for payment should be persistent, but not annoying, and keep high customer service principles in mind. Be sure they know the importance of using a patient’s name (include Mr. or Mrs. to show respect), knowing account details so they can provide accurate answers, being courteous, respecting privacy, and saying thank you. It’s a good idea to provide pre-written scripts staff can use when making calls to patients about billing. If you have a capable staff and an effective process, collecting patient payments is just part of how you operate, and prevent hiring a collection agency.

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