COVID-19 has forced medical practices and billing companies nationwide to rethink the way they do business. This is especially true when it comes to managing the patient financial experience—something that the majority of respondents to a recent Inbox Health survey said they felt the need to improve even before the pandemic. Providers and vendors can no longer rely on antiquated collection strategies that don’t consider COVID-19-related financial hardships as well as the growing patient financial responsibility as more people enroll in high deductible health plans (HDHP).
Continue to thrive with these five tips to help medical practices and billing companies align the patient financial experience with the current economic environment.
- Make it easier for patients in every way. Many of today’s tech-savvy patients do not want to mail a paper check to their provider, open a paper statement, or fill out financial paperwork before their appointment. Many may be dealing with job changes, illness, childcare challenges, and more. Do not let paying a medical bill be another hurdle for them to cross. Instead, provide simple solutions such as multiple options to pay online (including via credit cards, digital wallet payments, ACH, or phone payments), digital pre-appointment forms, and mobile and email bill delivery. These digital options fit into patients’ busy lifestyles, and it is what they are already accustomed to using in non-healthcare industries. Payment flexibility can help you improve patient satisfaction while simultaneously enhancing cash flow.
- Provide a personalized experience. When a medical practice or billing company embraces digital technology, staff can focus their attention more directly on the patient in front of them or on the phone. They spend less time performing data entry and more time providing patients with a personalized and positive experience. Hoping to decrease the number of inbound phone calls? Try using interactive voice response to automate responses to patients’ most common questions. Additionally, provide patients with tools that offer billing support, such as SMS correspondences, HIPAA-compliant email, or real-time chat.
- Focus on billing with empathy. Yes, collecting revenue is important but so is maintaining patient trust and rapport. Many patients genuinely want to pay their medical bills, but personal financial circumstances make it difficult to do so all at once. This is not surprising. In 2020, nearly 53% of American workers covered by private health insurance through their employer were enrolled in HDHPs—up from 50.5% in 2019 and 49.1% in 2018. Just over one-third of consumers said they have had an unpaid medical bill go to collections. In many cases, a little empathy goes a long way. For example, do you offer interest-free payment plans or other types of financial assistance programs that allow patients to pay a little bit at a time? Are staff professionally trained to respond with compassion and sensitivity during difficult financial conversations? A single ‘conversation gone wrong’ can destroy a patient relationship. Give patients the benefit of the doubt. When the dust settles, they will remember your willingness to be flexible and support them during a vulnerable time.
- Ensure accurate coding and billing. Changes to coding and billing are a regular occurrence during the COVID-19 pandemic. If medical practices and billing companies do not stay on top of these changes, they run the risk of producing inaccurate bills that frustrate patients. Staying abreast of coding changes—particularly around telehealth and other virtual services—is critical.
- Revamp patient statements. Nobody likes to receive a billing statement that is unclear and vague. Patients are less likely to pay if the statement is difficult to understand. Instead, send patient-friendly statements that are clear and branded for your practice. Use plain language, and include important details such as the physician’s name, service rendered, date of service, amount the insurance paid, and amount due from the patient. Keep the design in mind – headers, fonts, text size – to make essential information stand out. Be sure to send the statement as soon as you receive the Explanation of Benefits from the insurance company. The longer you wait to send the statement, the more likely patients are to question or even forget the services they received.
By embracing technology and billing with empathy, medical practices and billing companies can significantly improve their ability to collect patient responsibility—even during times of financial hardship. The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired medical practices and billing companies to enhance the patient financial experience while simultaneously improving their bottom line. Learn more.
Lisa A. Eramo, MA is a freelance healthcare writer who specializes in healthcare reimbursement, health information management, value-based care, and patient engagement. She contributes bylined articles to various healthcare trade publications and also assists clients with healthcare content marketing. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting www.lisaeramo.com.