Six Ways to Get Paid Faster and More Fully by Patients

By Christy Seely, Marketing Manager at ZirMed
Twitter: @zirmed

Thanks to the rise of high-deductible health plans, patients’ share of financial responsibility continues to grow—and almost 50% of it typically ends up written off as bad debt. But there are steps you can take to make sure that statistic doesn’t end up as your statistic.

Let’s break down six ways in which you can paid faster and more fully by patients.

1.  Collect as Much Money as Possible Up Front
See that patient standing at your front desk? Right now is the one and only best time you’ll ever have to collect her out-of-pocket financial responsibility for the medical care she’s about to receive from you.

So commit the following to memory, communicate it constantly to your staff, and make it part of your organization’s financial management DNA:

Money you collect from patients before you provide service will never cost you a penny to bill, never be written off as bad debt, and never sit in your accounts receivable for a single day.

At a bare minimum, you should be collecting patients’ copayments when you check their insurance coverage. But it’s also worth looking for a good patient estimation application that goes beyond eligibility verification to predict a patient’s total financial responsibility based on demographic, insurance, encounter, and procedure information. While contract- or fee-based estimation systems are expensive, a patient estimation application that uses your fee schedule and charge master data provides equally accurate estimates much more affordably.

Too often we hear statements such as, “Our front-desk staff is uncomfortable asking patients for money.” But guess what? Patients actually prefer to be told up front what procedures, tests, and office visits will cost. As patients’ share of financial responsibility goes up, more and more of them are seeing themselves as active consumers rather than passive receivers of healthcare. Whether they’re consuming a restaurant meal, a trip to Disney World, or healthcare services, they want to know ahead of time what it’s going to cost them, so they can decide whether they can afford it and how they’re going to pay for it.

2.  Set Up Payment Plans on the Spot for Any Money You Can’t Collect Up Front
Unless you serve only the well-off, some of your patients—especially those who are uninsured or have high-deductible health plans—simply won’t be able to pay their full financial responsibility at once. Be ready to offer each of them a payment plan they can afford and can agree to before you provide service.

That means having an automated system for setting up and managing payment plans in place and ready to go whenever you need it. Look for an application that includes automatic deductions from the patient’s bank account or credit card, which offers them peace of mind while helping to ensure full payment without high billing and collection costs. Make sure it lets your staff set up proposed plans—including different payment amounts and payoff dates—and change them while negotiating with a patient.

3.  Take a Smart Approach to Billing Any Remaining Balances
What if it’s already too late to collect up front? There’s still a lot you can do to increase the likelihood that you’ll be paid—and sooner rather than later.

The first thing to consider (if you haven’t already) is billing and collecting electronically. While some patients, especially older ones, still prefer paper, more and more people want the convenience, speed, and environmental friendliness of e-statements. And if that’s not enough to convince you, switching from paper to electronic statements and payments typically cuts the mean days to payment from 20 to 9, while boosting the percentage of full payments rendered from 77% to 95%.

But don’t just rely on e-statements. Find a system that will automatically generate and mail a paper statement if the patient doesn’t react to the electronic one within a reasonable time.

Don’t forget the basics either—and remember to put yourself in your patients’ shoes. It may seem obvious that a bill that’s easy for a patient without medical credentials or an accounting degree to understand is more likely to get paid than one the patient can’t understand. But it’s amazing how many provider organizations still send out unattractive, confusing bills.

Your patient should be able to glance at your bill and be able to quickly see why they owe the money (that is, what they’re being asked to pay for), how much they owe, and how they can pay. Using color to break down the information and highlight key points makes a big difference, and at least one vendor offers color printing at no extra charge.

4.  Always Make it Easy for Patients to Pay You
Notice a pattern here? The more obstacles you can remove from the payment process, the more likely and sooner you are to get paid.

Your patients should never have to figure out how to pay you. Whether you’re asking them for payment in person, on the phone, or in an electronic or printed statement, be clear about what their payment options are—and offer them as many ways to pay as possible.

5.  Help Your Uninsured Patients Get Coverage
The more money a patient owes you out of pocket, the more difficult collecting it is likely to be—and the greater your financial risk. That means that it’s in your self-interest to help your uninsured patients obtain coverage. And because it helps your patients afford more healthcare, coverage can also encourage them to get regular preventive care, seek care sooner when health issues arise, and ultimately improve their health.

The more information, encouragement, and assistance you can give your patients to help them get insured, the better, of course. But even if your staff is too overstretched or underqualified to provide health insurance counseling or advice, you can at least point your patients to available online programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and

6.  Strengthen Your Relationships with Your Patients—Before, During, and Between Visits
If your staff isn’t used to asking patients to pay when they come in, they may need coaching to get over any discomfort they may feel—and to avoid making your patients uncomfortable. Some employees may need coaching to help them interact more effectively with patients even when they’re not asking for money.

Making sure everyone on your staff comes across as warm, welcoming, friendly, and enthusiastically helpful to your patients—rather than cold and clinical—at all times and in all face-to-face, phone, and written communications has real ramifications for your revenue. That’s because it helps build patient loyalty, referrals of friends, acquaintances, and extended family members, and—increasingly important in today’s healthcare marketplace—positive online reviews.

Speaking of online, a dedicated HIPAA-compliant patient payment portal where your patients can manage and pay bills, access their billing records, and check their payment status from any internet-connected device is quickly becoming a necessity rather than an option. A well-designed portal can help strengthen your patients’ loyalty to your organization while improving collections and saving your staff hours of “phone tag.”

By reducing the time your staff spends on the phone and pulling invoices to meet patient requests, a portal can increase the time they can devote to actual revenue-generating activities, such as appealing denials, that might otherwise get too little attention.

But to get the most from your portal, you need to put some effort into educating your patients about it. Patients will only use it if they know it’s available, understand its benefits for them, and know or can easily figure out how to use it.

This article was originally published on ZirMed and is republished here with permission.