Provider Strategy

5 Tips for Boosting Patient Billing

Improve billing efficiencies, staff effectiveness, patient relationships.

We all know how important it is to aim for 100 percent reimbursement to be successful, which is why billing management has become much more aggressive in HME. No one likes tracking down co-pays, co-insurance and deductibles, but medical expenses are part of the business. Many HME providers struggle with what are the best approaches to collect payments. It’s because there is a fine line between calling a patient multiple times, and leaving messages that might come across as being overly aggressive versus engaging in a respectful matter that keeps the relationship strong.

Do you know how to balance what it takes to efficiently contact a patient and ask for money while staying in good standing? It’s possible with the right plan and the right technology. Here are some tips to consider to create an ideal billing experience, and make for happier billing staff and patients.

1. Agree on a Payment Method

Nobody likes paying medical bills, but not being aware that you need to pay them on the spot is worse. This can be dangerous for the patient-provider relationship; reflect poorly on your business; and get back to the referral source. When planning to have new patients, it’s important to have an upfront policy of determining the method of payment and enforce it. This ensures accuracy, consistency and accountability. Your policy should expedite the delivery of the order. Patients and staff will know what to expect for future transactions. This also gives patients a level of financial responsibility and comfortability, so there are no surprises. Communicate the policy to your staff, so they know what to expect and how to present the information to patients. Plus, the newer the bill, the easier it is to collect payment. The longer you wait to tell the patient, the more your labor costs rise to collect on that account.

2. Use Online Billing and Payment Solutions

Do you pay your credit card bills online, or send a check in the mail? This isn’t 1999 where you need a stamp and envelope. So why should your patients have to pay their medical bills that way? However, many providers still go the snail mail route, and that is a big missed opportunity. As the growing Baby Boomer population more heavily relies on technology, there is a greater need for a quick and easy payment solution. A Deloitte annual survey of U.S. healthcare consumers found that 70 percent of respondents prefer to get their bills electronically instead of in paper form.

Providers should consider moving their business online for greater efficiencies, patient convenience and satisfaction. Online tools allow patients to register for an account, view and pay bills online, and set up electronic autopayments and invoices. The process can be as easy as paying a mortgage bill online. Patients get control of their finances, a sense of transparency, and enjoy the convenience to pay bills from almost anywhere with their electronic device without calling the provider. For the provider, the technology can reduce paperwork, labor costs and time because it takes less manual effort to process an online payment individually.

3. Have Automation

Electronic billing and payment methods are widely available, but many HME providers still print, stuff and send statements. These providers are throwing away money, time and labor, and are behind their competition. It’s important to automate your manual billing process and carry that over into your billing systems to further streamline your billing and collections. Automated payment plans are especially helpful for patients. This gives patients an easy way to get on a schedule. They won’t have to remember when to pay, eliminating late payments. Plus, it gives them finance options (such as paying off a credit card). Of course, some patients will always prefer to engage with a live person, so an agent should be available to guide them in order to receive payment.

On the provider side, automation helps creates greater inventory control and accounts receivable management. This leads to processing more patient intakes and billing, shrinking your cash flow cycle by days or weeks. Plus, providers can see real-time transactions and get alerts when payments are made without tracking revenues.

4. Make Invoices Personal

Think about the last time you read a bill. There were probably multiple areas explaining different parts of the service with costs associated with each one. Now consider if you were unsure of some the wording and pricing listed. That’s a big concern for many patients when they get their medical bills — and also why the simplicity of the bill itself is just as important as how the patient has access to it. Bills should be easy to read, concise and be sent out in a timely manner. A bill should not overwhelm or cause patients to ignore it. The recommendation is to create a customized invoice that will change the way your patients view their financial responsibility and change the way they pay.

These are some of the main reasons why providers switch from paper invoicing to electronic (or e-invoicing), which uses electronic communications to produce service charges as they are prepared in real time. Invoices can be viewed in a patient portal and match every customer preference. You won’t have to worry about patients accidently throwing away a paper invoice. The other bonuses for the providers include saving billing time and money by eliminating manual labor involved in reporting, reviewing and sending your patient invoices. The time your staff will save, they can put toward concentrating on higher payoff activities.

5. Create a Checklist

Some of the changes to your billing policy/plan might seem easy enough to implement, but remember that even small changes can have a big effect on your staff, patients and revenue. Before implementing, give your staff a clear plan and tools that will help them prepare for conversations with patients. Provide employees step-by-step directions to help them gather information and feel confident to engage patients. The last thing you want is uneducated staff who can make themselves or the patient feel uncomfortable. As part of the checklist, prepare example FAQs and resolutions for possible scenarios.

Provide training and consulting to ensure your staff uses best business practices. No matter the documentation requirements or product, the checklists will help patients and callers understand the billing process, including reimbursement and payment. By preparing materials and a process, you enhance the patient-provider experience, leading to more on-time payments, higher retention rates and an improvement in workflow.

Whether your business needs a billing services overhaul or just some tweaks, remember it’s always important to consider your staff and patients. What may work for one billing department and group of patients may not work the same for another.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Jennifer Leon is the vice president of Brightree Patient Collections (BPC), where she manages the overall health and strategic direction of the NPC business. She has been with Brightree (formerly Strategic AR) since January 2011. During that time, she has had an opportunity to work with almost every part of the organization, enabling her to develop a deep understanding of private pay collection process and operational performance for more than 700 providers.

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