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.
- Communicate the Patient Portion Prior to the Appointment Date
Your office administrative staff must check the patient’s copay or deductible amount before the date of the appointment. One software that you can use to precheck patient eligibility is Availity.
The next crucial step is to ensure that you communicate the value to the patient at least two days prior to the appointment date. You can use multiple communication platforms such as a mobile text, email, and a patient portal inbox message to ensure that the information reaches the client. For patients who aren’t tech-savvy, or for patients in the age group of 65 and above, you may want to also include a call back to ensure that the client comes prepared to pay the copay value.
A significant benefit of this pre-appointment communication is that it cuts the element of unwanted surprise for the patient. Lack of communication leads to a lack of preparedness to pay the copay value. It is also something that can be interpreted as ‘hidden charges’ by patients and impact the overall experience of dealing with your medical practice.
Caution – With CMS changing billing guidelines to address the pandemic, it’s important to ensure that your office staff understands the latest regulations.
2. Use Patient portal to Collect Patient Forms online
All patient forms must be accessible on your patient portal so that patients can prefill the documents before arriving at the office. Prior to the appointment, the client can fill the forms, sign them digitally using DocuSign or Adobe Sign, and email them to your practice.
Accepting client documents digitally will be a time saver when the client arrives at your medical office and is also a way to lower the risk of coronavirus for everyone present at the premises.
3. Offer Multiple online Payment Options
You can 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.
4. Offer Payment Plans to Patients who are loyal to your practice.
Offering an incentive to self-pay may encourage patients to pay promptly. In states where permissible, practices can offer a discount on patient balances for payments made within the first thirty days. 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.
5. Proactive Communication with patients through Text and Secure Emails.
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 multiple payment options and repayment assistance available at your practice.
Your collection agency 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.
Therefore, if you want to improve patient collections, here is a list of questions you need to be asking –
- Does your staff have the time to do the initial eligibility check?
- Does your practice management software have the ability to check the copay amount?
- Can you outsource the pre-visit eligibility check to your billing company?
- Are your sending information on appointment cost at least two days prior to the appointment?
- Does your office staff understand the CMS guidelines on billing during COVID-19?
- Does your patient portal have all the appointment documents?
- Is your EMR equipped to receive patient documents digitally?
- Are you accepting online payments?
- Are you proactively communicating repayment plans to patients?
- Is your collections company in sync with your collections policy?
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.
- 3 Proven Ways to Improve Patient Collections
- Podcast – Patient Collections Tips To Boost Practice Revenue
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