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Patient Payments Blog

77% of Practices Take Risks With Patient Payments

Posted by Jim Turner

Sep 12, 2017 8:43:00 AM



When we talk of risk, one of the first things that often comes to mind is skydiving. The reality is that there's a 0.3% rate of injury for every 1,000 jumps. That could mean anything from a minor scratch to a life threatening injury. The truth is that you are taking more risk on your daily commute. The average driver is more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than the average sky diver is to get injured. In a similar way, practices think they are taking risks if they talk to their patients about money when, in fact, they are taking a larger risk by not talking to them. 

In the same survey I linked to last week (https://revcycleintelligence.com/news/36-of-providers-never-address-patient-financial-responsibility) is a little reported survey statistic. Only 23% of practices ALWAYS discuss payment with their patients. That means the remaining 77% sometimes or never discuss payment. That’s quite a risk.

My experience suggests that they take the risk because it’s so hard to have the financial discussion. Financial discussions can be as difficult as medical discussions, both have to be done. Doctors have to work on their communication skills especially when it comes to sharing bad news with patients. Billing offices need to do the same.  Think of the consequences if a doctor chose not to have the medical discussion because he wasn’t comfortable breaking bad news to patients.

If the doctor fails to have the medical discussion, he or she can seriously impact the patient’s health. If the billing department fails to have the financial discussion, they can seriously impact the practice’s health. How can you take your practice from a risk taking, sometimes discussing, suffering the consequences practice to a no risk, comfortably working with, enjoying the benefits of on-time payments practice? Here are some suggestions.

The best time to talk to patients. Have the financial discussion before they see the doctor, after they see the doctor, before they schedule another appointment, while they are well, when they call, and in all paper and digital communications. I just included everything, didn’t I? I included everything because it’s good to include subtle reminders as often as possible.

BUT, if you were to ask me to pin down the best time to have the financial discussion to nail down how they will be paying for their treatment, I believe there are two.  Immediately before they see the doctor or immediately after. Face to face, while they are in the office is key. These two times are especially effective if you are creating estimates. If you can set your office up to accommodate one of these two scenarios, you will start seeing on-time payments rise.

The best approach. Humility and empathy always work. When your staff can put themselves into the shoes of your patients you will find they are much better at securing payment. Patients are much more likely to make payment arrangements with staff members that can kindly identify with tough situations. If you have great attitudes coupled with great payment options for patients, your staff has all they need to create the needed trust to secure financial arrangements that work for both practice and patient.

The best follow-up. Constant but not annoying is a good rule of thumb. Of course, if you do it right, very little if any follow-up is necessary. Since you’ve determined to take the right approach at the right time (I’m assuming you want to avoid being one of those risk-taking practices in the 77% group) then why not go the distant. Have a way to secure payment that virtually eliminates follow-up.

That, of course, is to schedule one-time or recurring payments using a credit card-on-file. We talk about it a lot because it’s our business but also because it works. For every patient that gives you a card-on-file, you’ve just eliminated the high cost of further billing and collections discussions. They’ve given you permission to charge their card for the amount they owe. In effect, you’re done. They financial discussion is over.

I realize that this is an over simplified version of what you will need to do in your practice to implement the changes needed to become a 23-percenter practice. If you find yourself a bit overwhelmed and in need of some coaching, we do it for free. Our payment consultants will take the time to understand how your practice works and how you interact with patients. We can then suggest ways to improve your workflows and patient interactions to get the most benefit from any changes you make. Make a small step today by reaching out to us with questions or downloading one of our free guides. Take the leap! 

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Topics: Patient Balances, Credit Card On File, Patient Collections, Patient Centered Practice, Financial Policy

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