A recent article in Health Data Management pointed out an MGMA study that showed 30% of patients who visit a doctor’s office leave without making any payment whatsoever. Before the internet and cloud software in particular, healthcare providers had to settle the financial paperwork of a visit weeks after the episode of care took place.
Until recently, under most insurance plans, patients would only owe a copay or a modest deductible payment and patients who could accurately anticipate their final charges were much less surprised when they received their invoices. Today, separate negotiated rates with each payer’s healthcare network makes it nearly impossible for a patient to calculate in advance what he or she will owe without the help of the payer and/or the provider. However, thanks to technology, this is changing.
An Easy Way to Decrease Bad Debt
Providers need patient revenue more than ever and the best time to ask for that revenue is before an episode of care ever takes place. With the increase in the number of high deductible health plans, physicians and hospitals alike are finding that more patients owe a larger portion of their charges instead of just a copay. By collecting a payment or a commitment to pay upfront, providers are less likely to end up with bad debt from that patient. If a patient is unable to make a payment upfront, the provider can set up a monthly payment plan or perhaps offer alternative financing options. According to a 2016 survey, 41% of patients reported using a payment plan to pay off medical bills.
Technology Now Makes It Not Only Possible but Easy
Prior to cloud software, it was difficult if not impossible to generate an accurate estimation of patient financial responsibility. Today, there are multiple avenues and technologies for generating a close estimation of patient out-of-pocket costs.. Physicians should take advantage of the fact that administrators can now easily provide better financial communications to patients.
Once an estimate is generated, providers can request payment and either process the payment or set up payment arrangements (like an automated payment plan or card on file agreement) using a flexible patient payments platform. If the charge needs to be adjusted or even refunded, the provider can do this with a few clicks instead of waiting weeks for the claims process to sort things out. A patient should be able to communicate with the provider while using the platform to sort through any errors or questions about the particular bill.
Convenience For Both the Patient and the Provider
While it’s not always possible to have nuanced financial discussions upfront (at an emergency room, for example), for pre-scheduled encounters patients may find it more convenient to take care of the financial details beforehand, especially if a large financial obligation is anticipated. This is the perfect time to discuss a monthly payment plan or financing options so that the patient knows how much will be charged in the coming months regardless of the final amount. Patients who sign up for automated payment plans are far more likely to fulfill their obligations and an automated payment plan makes the process more convenient for both parties.
Conclusion: Treat Patients Like Consumers
It’s worth noting that in other service industries, consumers are usually required to put down some sort of deposit or commitment to pay when the service is rendered. For larger purchases, layaway plans and financing options are prevalent. While this should not be a requirement in healthcare (due to many exceptions in healthcare, including time-sensitive ones), the best practice should be encouraged as a chance to proactively address any financial issues before it’s too late.
As healthcare shifts to a more consumer-like environment, patients want consumer-friendly payment options. If you request upfront payment or commitment to pay like other consumer services, then you should also make sure you offer the right convenient options and technology to improve patient satisfaction and keep your patients business in the future.