Jan. 15—Medical account resolution best practices that aim to improve patients’ understanding of the payment and collections process and promote fair and consistent collection methods were issued Wednesday by an industry task force led by HFMA and ACA International, The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals.

The best practices aim to provide “clear guidance for resolving financial obligations before, during, and after a patient visits a hospital or other healthcare setting,” according to a release. The best practices are designed to improve communication between patients and providers and standardize and better coordinate all business practices related to medical account resolution.

The task force urged adoption of the best practices throughout the healthcare industry.

"These best practices provide a much-needed blueprint for hospitals, physicians, and our partners in account resolution to coordinate their activities in ways that respect and benefit patients," said Joseph J. Fifer, FHFMA, CPA, president and CEO of HFMA. "Patients want information that is timely, clear, and concise and deserve a consistent, fair process for resolving payment issues."

To better help patients understand what to expect, the best practices urge providers to develop “consistent, coordinated policies for account resolution so collection agencies and others are governed by a provider’s board-approved policies.”

Other provider actions urged by the best practices were the development of appropriate channels and best practices for patient communications and account resolution; reporting back to credit bureaus when accounts are resolved (in cases when an account is reported to a credit bureau); and tracking consumer complaints.

"Many consumers are struggling with medical bills today," said ACA International CEO Pat Morris. "These best practices are a balanced step forward for all of the stakeholders involved to better resolve patient medical accounts."

Specific provider steps urged by the best practices include publicizing clear written policies on the provision of financial assistance, which describe how to apply and what supporting documentation is needed.

The industry guidance came as the Obama administration implements an Affordable Care Act provision requiring all not-for-profit hospitals to establish a written financial assistance policy and billing and collections policy.

The collection best practices followed previous HFMA initiatives to improve financial communications, including the Patient Financial Communications Best Practices and HFMA’s Patient Friendly Billing® project.

Publication Date: Wednesday, January 15, 2014