Patients today face the burden of shouldering high medical bills. In many cases, they’re not prepared to pay for these expenses.
According to a 2019 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, around 137.1 million Americans faced financial hardship in the past year due to high out-of-pocket spending for medical treatments or hospitalization. A separate previous study cited that two-thirds of people refer to medical expenses as the main reason for bankruptcy.
As patients struggle with their financial responsibilities, providing them with straightforward financial information is more critical than ever. Here are several ways you can apply patient-friendly billing practices at your facility:
Train your front desk staff
Your front office staff is an important resource when it comes to collecting payments and following up on outstanding bills. If your front desk staff collects payments at the time of the service, train them on how to ask for payment. Informing patients of their financial obligations and requesting payments upfront is essential in achieving patient satisfaction. They may do this through the phone or at the time of the service.
Educate your patients about the payment process
Give your patients the information they need by providing a comprehensive description of your credit and collection policies. Be transparent but concise about their responsibilities for payments at the time of service, as well as how your facility sends invoices. Honest communication streamlines your billing and reduces complaints due to confusion over information.
Offer patient-specific price estimates
Since patients are responsible for a large portion of their health expenses, they want to know how much your services will cost in advance.
Although there is an ongoing debate on whether hospitals should provide standard charges for their services, you can promote price transparency with personalized estimates. The estimate should cover the specific procedure and how much will be shouldered by their insurance provider. This estimate may not be the final price, but it sets the patient’s expectation on how much they should pay out of their pockets.
You can also promote price transparency by listing the prices for common procedures on your website. Your front desk and call center staff should have this information as well.
Generate a relevant and accurate billing statement
When sending out bills, include only what your patients need to know, such as the amount covered by insurance and the amount that patients have to pay directly.
Before sending out the billing statement, ensure that all the information is accurate. If checking for accuracy is a tedious administrative process, use revenue cycle management services that help you render medical services into billable charges and submit billable fees to insurance companies. Doing so will leave you little room for error.
Simplify the billing process
Give patients a variety of options for settling their medical bills. Apart from the usual cash and check options, consider opening credit and debit payment methods for your patients. You may also create an online portal where patients can settle their debt via phone apps or payment channels.
Your method of sending bills may likewise affect the patient experience. Instead of sending the bills by mail, ask patients if they prefer to receive their statements via email. This option will lessen the chances of late payments or non-payment due to a lost billing statement.
Create a patient portal
To make things easier for you and your patients, consider setting up a patient portal. Patients can sign up on that portal and message your customer service team, schedule appointments, request for price estimates on certain procedures, and pay their bills.
Patient portals can be integrated into existing medical software such as electronic health records and scheduling, making your facility’s IT system comprehensive.
Consider other payment options
There are other innovative ways to encourage patients to pay their medical bills. Some of them include:
In a concierge medicine model, patients pay a membership fee for medical services. In exchange, they enjoy perks like same-day appointments and longer examination times.
This business model may be different from a traditional practice, but some people might be willing to pay extra to receive personalized service. However, it might not be the best solution if most of your patients are from the lower-income population.
Consider developing payment plans for patients struggling to pay their bills. You may customize these plans to the patient’s financial situation and the amount they incurred. For example, a patient with a balance under $100 can opt to pay a minimum of $25 per month. For higher balances, you can set a minimum monthly payment of, say, $50.
With payment plans, though, payments may come in slowly. At least, these payments are improving their balance and you don’t have to write it off as a bad debt. Patients are also more likely to stick to paying off their debt with a payment plan, instead of being forced to pay a huge sum.
A bad billing experience can negatively affect your practice. With patients shouldering most of their medical expenses, you want to make sure that their payment experience is positive and convenient.