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If "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," are there preventative measures hospitals could use to make good on bad debt?

With today's advanced technological tools and a patient-friendly customer service approach, hospitals can make strides earlier in the revenue cycle to improve patient interactions and promote a healthier system all around.

Apply Patient Care Concepts to Billing

Extend the idea of "patient care" into your billing practices to improve patient satisfaction and reduce collection costs. All too often, people cease to be "patients" and become "accounts" anytime issues surrounding billing and payment are addressed. It's essential to extend the concept of patient care beyond the clinical and into the financial within your organization to keep a check on potential bad debt.

Take a positive approach regarding patient financial responsibility. Fundamentally, most people want to pay their bills. Remember this fact as you interact and correspond with patients who have not yet paid. Avoiding pointed, contentious communications will go a long way toward averting bad debt.

Offer payment options at every turn. Give patients every opportunity and multiple methods to settle accounts. Address and request payment upfront during registration. Include credit card forms on every statement. Accept payment by phone and online through a patient payment portal. Educate patients on their payment responsibilities.

From the point of access and throughout the care encounter, offer patients financial counseling, guidance, tips, and information so they know what they owe, when payment is due, and how they can pay. Prioritize patient financial advisement as if it's an extension of patient care.

Be flexible; offer payment plans. There's no sense in being rigid regarding how and when patients must pay, as it's better to receive compensation in payments over time than to never be paid at all. Work with families to find payment solutions that work, including potential charity care coverage.

Provide clearly stated collections policies. Ensure all patients have access to your collections policies from the point of access and throughout their encounter with your institution. Offer copies of the policy at every appropriate point of contact in person, by phone, and online. Just as a map helps people know where to go, a stated collections policy can point patients in the right direction to settle their accounts.

Put the "custom" in "customer." Treat everyone personally-individually-in substantive ways. Assign an advocate to work with each patient and serve as a trusted go-to throughout the billing process. Customize billing statements to include pertinent messaging specific to the recipient and their status in the collections process.

Improving Debt Forecasts

Hospitals can use billing data to proactively address and reduce the risk of bad debt. They can address potential issues by keeping watchful eyes on collected billing data. When data is captured across integrated platforms, an array of useful, predictive insights can be gleaned, and the investment in electronic billing and payment solutions can result in extended dividends, such as more accurate revenue and collection forecasts with a reduction in write-offs and delayed patient payments.

Monitor out-of-pocket costs charged. Even patients with third-party coverage will likely incur out-of-pocket costs, including copays. Large out-of-pocket costs may be potentially burdensome for individuals to pay; with awareness of this potential, hospitals can guide financial counseling and offer payment alternatives to avert any issues.

Track customer tenure. For first-time patients or those with only brief interactions with your institution, provide introductory information regarding billing processes, payment options, and collections expectations. By addressing all the basics for those with no or little knowledge of the system, you'll be able to illuminate the details and invite opportunities for them to ask questions.

Gauge the time of year to anticipate patient financial responsibility. Many plans with high deductibles divert a larger portion of out-of-pocket costs to patients earlier in the calendar year so that the deductible may be met. With this awareness, hospitals are able to anticipate and address payment issues that may arise as a result of these larger charges.

Look at individual versus family history with the provider. Hospitals may track payment patterns related to accounts for families versus individual accounts to determine if there are any collective issues that may be proactively addressed. Historical billing data may reveal write-off risk factors and common concerns for families and/or individuals, allowing for preemptive counseling to alleviate concern and potential bad debt.

Think Holistically

Patients come to healthcare providers to get well, not to accrue bad debt. Just as your team of patient care professionals strives to improve people's physical well-being, your administrative and financial staff should focus on maintaining their financial health as well. In blending the many ideas shared here, you'll have opportunities to right the write-offs through holistic attention to patients' needs.

When financial care is delivered proactively, thoughtfully, and consistently, providers and patients alike reap the rewards-bad debt reduced, debts of gratitude on the rise.

Emdeon is the sponsor of HFMA's Patient Friendly Billing newsletter. Call 877.EMDEON.6 (877.363.3666) or visit us online to discover how Emdeon Patient Connect and our industry experts can help you reduce your risk of bad debt and collect more, faster. 


Publication Date: Tuesday, November 16, 2010