Patient collection strategies have always had a significant bearing on the revenues of a physician practice. With COVID-19 adding a new dimension to the physician-patient interaction, what collection strategies can you adopt to maintain or even improve revenue?
While patients are returning to meet their physicians, most practices are still advising patients to defer elective surgeries and preventive visits such as annual physicals. In general, patients themselves are avoiding visiting hospitals and clinics to prevent exposure to the virus. The fluctuating state and local restrictions on travel and the mandatory social distancing norms have also impacted patient footfall at practices. Although telemedicine visits increased rapidly between March and May, the volumes of such consultations have since plateaued.
Researchers at Harvard University and Phreesia, a health care technology company, analyzed data on changes in visit volume for the more than 50,000 Phreesia clients. As of June 2020, patient traffic was down by at least 40 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. Surgical specialties, pulmonologists, and pediatric practices have seen the most significant relative decline in visits.
Patient Collection Strategies to Tide Over the COVID-19 Crisis
Though physicians want to continue to care for their communities, the pandemic impact on practice revenues has been nothing short of a financial tsunami. To ensure that your practice successfully weathers these turbulent times, we recommend the following patient collection strategies.
1. Scrutinize Patient Insurance Coverages
The first step to lowering the risk of patient payment delays is to avoid unnecessary patient collections. Minor discrepancies in demographic and insurance data can lead to charges being billed to patients that should ideally have been claimed under commercial or government insurance coverage.
Consider deploying a robust coverage discovery software to pre-screen uninsured and balance-after-insurance accounts for missing primary and secondary insurance. One software that you can use to precheck patient eligibility is Availity.
2. Offer Repayment Schemes
In states where permissible, practices can offer a discount on patient balances for payments made within the first thirty days. Offering an incentive to self-pay may encourage patients to pay promptly. It is an advisable short-term strategy before the tide of economic stress affects a more significant number of your patients.
The other alternative is repayment plans, which allow patients to repay in installments. Patients can automate monthly repayment (via a credit card or a bank account on file) through your practice’s patient portal.
If your patient portal does not have this facility, speak to your software vendor for an upgrade. Although spending more money may seem counterintuitive at this stage, collecting recurring automated payments is a patient collection strategy worth investing in for the long-term.
3. Proactive Communication of Patient Repayment Options
A billing statement is typically the only financial communication most practices send to patients, and that too after the medical services have been rendered. But the present healthcare crisis requires physician practices to adopt a more proactive approach to communicating with patients.
Your patient-communication touchpoints (website, IVR, newsletter, physical statements, emails) must acknowledge the financial impact some of your patients may be experiencing because of loss of pay or work opportunities. Use these client interfacing channels to offer information on repayment assistance available at your practice during the COVID-19 healthcare crisis.
4. Communicate with the Collection Vendor
Your collection vendors must be up to speed as you implement the revised patient collection strategy. Once a patient has expressed difficulty in meeting their co-pay obligations and consented to a repayment plan, ensure that you minimize the payment reminders, or hold the account for collections follow-ups, as this may cause undue stress.
You could stay the collections efforts (by another 30 to 60 days) on some overdue accounts of patients that have been with the practice for long and notify these patients via email of the one-time extended grace period.
Do ask the vendor to share the revised call scripts for speaking to patients with overdue accounts.
5. Follow Patient Collection Best Practices
Patient collection tips that will hold good at any time are as follows –
- Collect patient insurance upfront at the time of appointment booking and ensure that you check the eligibility cover before the patient comes to your office.
- Ensure that you share information on patient deductibles at least two to three days prior to the appointment date.
- Include information on patient payment responsibility as well as your collection policy as part of the new patient registration documents that are sent to each patient.
- Send automated payment reminders via text and email and your patient portal.
- Increase the likelihood of patient collection by offering multiple payment options that include cash, credit/debit card online payments, and check payments. AdvancedMD uses OpenEdge and eClinicalWorks uses TSYS payment solutions, both of which allow users to process online and recurring payments.
- Stay updated on the changing CMS guidelines on billing during COVID-19.
There may be nothing groundbreaking in these patient collection strategies, but the simplest ideas often have the biggest impact when you get them right.
More than ever before, the current economic crisis requires sensitivity in dealing with patients and their families. Making these changes to your patient collection strategy will ensure that your patients are the most vocal ambassadors of your practice for years to come.
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