By Patrick Creagh, Marketing Specialistshutterstock_124542043

Healthcare providers have begun answering the call for clearer patient statements, online payment options, and flexible payment plans. If the latest HIMSS conference was any indication, revenue cycle managers as a group have acknowledged that now is the time to simplify the payment process for patients.

Though much emphasis has been placed on the need for hospitals to offer patient-friendly billing, that’s just one of the parties involved in the payment process. Technology upgrades should focus not just on the patient, but the staff members involved with processing the payment as well.

Billing Office Complexities

From the patient’s point of view, once the payment is submitted, the provider has received it and that’s the end of the story, barring any refunds or adjustments. Unfortunately, as providers know, it’s not that simple. Tracking a patient payment before it’s posted can be like finding a needle in a haystack if the provider has multiple payment channels and manual consolidation procedures.

If a patient makes payments on two separate channels (online and in person, for example), then one payment may post days before the other and reflect an incorrect balance on a patient’s account during that time.

If a patient pays before a statement deadline but the payment doesn’t post quickly enough, the provider may mistakenly mail out a statement with the incorrect outstanding balance. This will confuse the patient, who will likely call the billing office to resolve the issue, eating away valuable staff time.

If a patient receives a statement for a balance that has already been paid and then pays the invoice a second time, the provider will eventually have to refund the money when the patient realizes the error. Again, wasted time for the billing office and the patient.

In all of these situations the patient’s satisfaction with the provider decreases, and the billing staff must spend unnecessary time resolving these problems.

The Case for Consolidation

Automatic consolidation of payment channels dramatically cuts down on the time to post a payment back to the patient account, in some cases to a single day. Daily balance updates allow for patients and billing staff to track patient accounts with much more accuracy and efficiency by eliminating the problems that stem from the lag in posting time.

Furthermore, the resulting visibility will allow for patients to better manage, track, and pay their balance with less confusion. This is achieved by having a single platform for all patient payment channels. Billing offices can then manage by exception and focus on the accounts that require the most attention.

21st Century Patient Communication

Another technology opportunity the billing office can take advantage of is a secure messaging platform to communicate with patients about their accounts. Patients are questioning and challenging their medical bills more than ever, and these questions often come in the form of calls that take up staff time. As more patients enroll in high deductible health plans, some may even hire the services of an advocate firm, or simply give the billing office a hard time.

Secure messaging offers a HIPAA-compliant way to answer questions about payments, charges, financing, or anything else related to billing without the immediate distraction of getting on the phone and then searching in real-time for the solution to what might be a complicated problem.

Secure messaging won’t eliminate the need to field patient phone calls but it will certainly allow offices to batch patient requests by subject and respond to questions more efficiently. Giving the correct answer the next day is better than not giving an answer over the phone.

The Automatic Office

Even smaller functions like issuing receipts or updating billing information can be reduced from minutes of work to seconds. Combined with a user-friendly dashboard, revenue cycle managers can make faster decisions about when, where, and how they engage their accounts. Without the need to manually consolidate multiple payment channels prior to posting, staff can spend more time working with patients instead of payments.

If you are interested in learning how Patientco can help you automate your patient payment process, click here.