By Blake Walker, CEO, Inbox Health
A recent survey conducted by Inbox Health found less than half of medical practices are satisfied with the way patient responsibility is currently managed. The frustration is also felt by patients – 50% of practices have had a patient leave because of a billing issue. Unprecedented medical debt, the rise in high-deductible health plans, staff shortages, and increases in overhead costs shine a light on the pain experienced on both the patient and provider sides of healthcare.
Patient billing and communications are a part of every touchpoint of the patient lifecycle, and how providers manage payment speaks volumes about their practice. The steps providers take before, during, and after a visit to ease the burden of patient payments directly impact patient satisfaction and improve operational efficiency.
Step 1: Plan
The better prepared a practice is to handle patient accounts receivable, the more seamless the process will be for both patients and the front desk. First, practices should review and update their payment policy annually and make sure it is clear and easy to find on their website. Second, conduct a technology check. There are likely tasks taking up staff’s time that the right technology can do in minutes. Conduct a staff survey. Are they spending hours on the phone collecting patient payments? Do they get an exorbitant number of billing inquiries? Manually setting up billing cycles? Patients are looking for a simplified payment and support experience, and a practice’s technology toolkit should cover those areas.
Step 2: Before a visit: communicate and check for eligibility
Patients expect and deserve transparency. Communicate payment expectations on a patient’s preferred contact channel before a visit. A practice’s pre-visit communications should outline payment options and the potential cost of the visit. Practices should also take the time to check for insurance eligibility to ensure data is up to date. Being organized and transparent about payment builds trust and loyalty between the patient and provider.
Step 3: During a visit: boost efficiency
First impressions are everything. Doctor’s appointments trigger anxiety for many individuals. When a practice is organized and direct, particularly about payment, it’s one less source of worry for a patient. Utilize the time while patients are in the waiting room to scan insurance cards and collect copayments. Simplify the process by keeping your workflows in one place. A HIPAA-compliant card reader, for example, keeps your payments organized and credit cards on file so practices have accurate payment information for subsequent transactions. For patients, if they opt in, payment is as seamless as an Uber ride. They see their provider, then go on with their day, and make a payment without having to dig through their wallet.
Step 4: After a visit: follow up on remaining payment
The patient journey comes full circle after the visit – the point where remaining balance is collected. Technology eases the burden for both practices and patients at this stage of the billing cycle. The exchange needs to be timely, empathetic, and communicated on the right channel.
With automation, patient statements can be sent by email, paper mail, or text immediately after they are adjudicated by insurance. It is also imperative to have support channels in place that deliver a response to billing questions in less than 24 hours. Today, the phone is only one way for patients to get answers to their billing questions. Live chat can provide immediate response to common inquiries, and text and email guarantee fast, empathetic assistance. According to a recent survey, 48% of practices would like to offer text support in the next 12 months. When it comes time to make a payment, the process needs to be convenient and secure. For example, some systems allow patients to access their statement and pay bills with a variety of payment methods through a HIPAA-compliant portal using data such as their birthdate.
The right technology in healthcare mutually benefits patients and practices. Will paying medical bills ever become a joyful experience? Will practices ever get excited about asking patients for money? The answer to both questions is probably not. However, for patients, technology ensures statements are transparent, enhances communication, and makes payment convenient. For practices, the right technology toolkit builds trust and loyalty with patients and ensures staff time is used efficiently.
About the Author
Blake Walker is chief executive officer at Inbox Health. For more information on Inbox Health, please visit www.InboxHealth.com.
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