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The Concrete Road to Getting Paid

Avoid the potholes By Alina Baban, Chair, Practice Manager Section

With the instability of the economy and the decrease in payer reimbursements, getting paid has become a challenge for many practices. In order to create a solid road to getting paid, it should be made of concrete. Why concrete? It is permanent, low-maintenance, and potholes will be virtually non-existent. Concrete creates a smooth drive to payment. Is there a downfall to creating a concrete road? Yes! As practice managers, we cannot just dump concrete on the road and hope it will lead us to our destination. It is labor-intensive and requires a solid plan. Your initial sketch should be your financial policy, the concrete should be staff and patient education, and the end plan should be creating multiple lanes of payment methods. No one wants to be on a road with one lane. If you want to reach your destination in a timely manner, your road should have at least a few payment methods.

Have Written Policy, Not Verbal
As practice managers, we should have a clear written financial policy in place. Roads are not built on verbal plans. Your written policy should clearly outline when to collect, how to collect, and whether there are payment plans for larger balances. It is important to realize that the patients should be familiar with the policy prior to their appointment. It should not be brought to patients’ attention for the first time when payment is due. When scheduling appointments, a simple statement that co-pays are due at the time of their visit is always a good way to start. When patients arrive for their appointment, your financial policy should be on their forms, posted in your office, and effectively administered by your staff. As patients continue to take responsibility for a larger portion of their medical bills, there should be a policy in place on how to collect payment for services provided. The policy can include collecting a deposit, having a credit card on file, or offering payment plans. Having a strong written financial policy that is enforced limits the number of patients who will fall in the bottomless pit of collections. Without creating a written plan, you are placing your staff and patients on a dirt road and expecting them to reach the destination of payment without an effective means of getting there.

After you have a policy in place, efforts should be made to better educate both staff and patients. Education is the concrete necessary for building roads that will withstand potholes. Staff should be educated on their responsibilities, strategies for collecting payments, patient communication, and the various components of insurance plans. Co-pays should always be collected at the time of a visit, and staff should be trained how to effectively communicate your policy to patients. Your staff should not ask the patient if they would like to make a payment, but emphasize how they would like to make a payment. Educating your staff will in turn educate your patients and help promote payment for services rendered. Patients should be educated on what their co-pays, deductibles, and out-of pocket costs are. It is surprising how unfamiliar the majority of patients are with their own insurance benefits. By educating patients on their benefits, and explaining what is expected prior to each service, your practice will minimize misunderstandings and increase the likelihood of payment.

Once a solid plan has been created and a road is in place, patients should be given multiple payment options. This will increase the likelihood that patients will fulfill their financial obligations. Give patients the ability to pay by cash, check, and credit card in the office or online. Flexible payment plans can also be a great tool to collect payment on larger balances. Give patients the option of setting up a recurring credit card payment or having their bank account directly debited until their balance is paid. If having payment plans is difficult for your practice or you feel it poses a risk, outsource. Some companies will give your patients a credit card for their medical expenses at no interest to them. You will pay merchant fees, but the card guarantees payment, eliminates risk, and does not require much work.

As practice managers, we do not want to be on a road filled with potholes that we are constantly trying to avoid. Start building your own concrete road to getting paid. Take the time to create an individualized financial policy, focus on effective education for staff and patients, and figure out the payment options your practice can offer. Once your financial policy is in place, and you give your practice the tools it needs, you will ensure a solid road to payment.

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