The healthcare industry is currently in an era of higher copays and deductibles, and effective patient collections are critical to the financial health of practices. The front desk staff of a practice is the first area to help with patient satisfaction and the key to a healthy revenue cycle. This front desk staff must collect the estimated copays, co-insurance and outstanding balances.
It should be the goal of every practice to collect 100% of copays and deductibles each day. Because asking for money can be uncomfortable, keep your patients informed of your policies through the practice website, patient portal and patient reminder phone calls. Effectively communicating to patients that payment is expected at the time of the visit can eliminate potential excuses, such as, “I don’t know if the cost of today’s appointment will apply to my deductible.” Also, it is very important to have a posted sign letting patients know “No Copay, No Visit,” and that the appointment will be rescheduled, except for acutely ill patients.
Keep in mind that patients sometimes do not understand their health insurance or financial responsibility; it is necessary to train staff members on the importance of collecting payment before patients are seen. Some staff may be more effective than others at collecting payments. It may be beneficial to have other employees observe their techniques so everyone is capable of performing this essential function.
Acceptable wording is key when collecting payments: For example, asking, “Would you like to pay your copay today?” implies that there is an option. Instead, upon check-in, staff should ask patients, “How will you be paying your copay/deductible/co-insurance today? We accept cash, debit or credit.” Additionally, it is important to track collection rates. It can be beneficial for front desk staff to complete an “If Not, Why Not?” report each day for monies not collected for copays, co-insurance and/or deductibles.
Unpaid balances are sometime inevitable in physician practices, and although it may be unpleasant to ask patients to pay their outstanding balances, it is critical to the revenue stream and bottom line of the practice. Access to outstanding balances should be readily available to billers and front desk staff. Make sure they are able to review patient accounts at check-in. As they confirm the patient’s insurance and demographics, staff can politely remind the patient about their outstanding balance and ask how they would like to pay. It’s crucial to not ask such questions as, “Do you want to pay your balance today?” The answer will usually be “No.” Simply ask how they would like to clear up the outstanding balance.