Managing self-pay with a patient satisfaction mindset: 4 tips for success
There are many pieces to the patient satisfaction puzzle. It isn’t just the care patients receive; billing and payments are becoming increasingly important. A quick recovery means little when a patient feels they’ve been subjected to an unfair billing process. If patients are frustrated with your collection practices, they become dissatisfied patients, putting the payment you’re owed at risk of never being collected.
Given the continuing growth of self-pay and rising insurance deductibles, how you collect on self-pay balances has never been more important to your financial health and prospects.
The current pandemic has and will continue to drive unemployment, making healthcare collections even more difficult. What it costs you to collect on those balances can be up to three times higher than the cost to collect commercial insurance accounts. The longer a self-pay balance goes unpaid, the lower the probability you will collect anything at all.
It’s a vicious cycle for providers: fewer patients pay, accounts receivable (AR) days go up, cash flow slows down, bad debt mounts and revenue shortfalls loom large. To break free from this cycle, you need to seize the opportunity to manage self-pay with a patient satisfaction mindset.
1. Get smart about segmenting your self-pay portfolio.
When it comes to patients’ payment preferences, one size does not fit all. Some patients like dealing with a billing specialist directly over the phone, others remit payment with a check in the mail, and still others prefer self-service options via interactive voice response (IVR) and online portal interactions.
To effectively manage your growing self-pay portfolio, you will need to continuously evaluate each account so you can connect with patients on their terms and collect patient payment as quickly as possible. The most effective AR operations use analytics to discern how certain types of patients are most likely to pay before engaging in collections activity, thus reducing the cost to collect, increasing recovery and improving patient satisfaction. The right analytics can allow you to properly score accounts so your entire portfolio can be segmented and paired with an efficient collection strategy and workflow.
Scoring and segmentation are only half the equation, however. A good strategy is one that’s constantly monitored and refined. Analytics can be used to measure results, pinpoint what isn’t working so new strategies and best practices can be implemented. Analytics highlight those collection practices offering the greatest recovery, along with those that invite the greatest participation.
2. Apply a laser focus on patient communication preferences.
In today’s healthcare business environment, it’s imperative that providers understand the myriad ways patients prefer to communicate and make payments. People in their 20s are less likely to answer smart phone calls than their parents are, while their parents are less likely to check email on a daily basis.
Patients might prefer to pay via IVR, a call center, a printed invoice, or a web portal — or none, some or all of the above, depending on their circumstances at the time they receive the bill. And it is why providing a range of convenient communication and payment options can be a real breakthrough in your efforts to promote a collection program that improves patient satisfaction and revenue recovery.
To make the patient experience as smooth as possible, you’ll need tools that track each patient’s preferred manner of contact and allow you to respond to each patient in an appropriate manner. When you dial a patient, for example, an agent should be available to speak with them immediately. Your web portal should be available for use 24/7. And your IVR should be certified to accept credit card transactions after delivering clear, consistent messages that are compliant with both hospital policy and government regulations.
3. Offer flexible and clear payment arrangements and discounts.
Are you offering the right discount to the right patients, every time? Are you delivering the same compassionate message across the board? Are your policies compliant with new federal and state laws?
Reaching your financial goals in a compassionate, compliant manner depends on your ability to maintain consistency across payment arrangements and discounting policies, which requires a holistic view of AR operations. Achieving this ideal state is possible only with a certain degree of automation.
Whether you communicate with a patient over the phone or in writing, having visibility into that patient’s entire relationship with your business can increase cash and reduce bad debt write-offs. You need to be able to talk to a patient about all of their balances at the same time in one convenient phone call. Otherwise, it’s easy for liabilities to fall through the cracks and sit on the books for several months or even years.
Patients walk away with greater satisfaction when they see a hospital that’s focused on their financial well-being and their clinical care in equal measure. To become that preferred provider, focus first on establishing purposeful, clear plans based on your community’s needs and goals. Then develop communication strategies to effectively convey payment options. When you’re ready to execute, look for scalable technology that can help ensure consistency and manage increasing account volumes.
4. Set performance-based goals to drive meaningful progress.
So you’re spending X number of dollars to reach X number of patients over X number of hours. What’s your end goal? More importantly, how are you measuring success?
Best practice metrics consider far more than simply how much you’ve been promised and how much you’ve collected. Next-generation key performance indicators account for the ability to capture more data, giving you new ways to analyze why and how your patients are reaching a zero balance.
Leading healthcare organizations go beyond basic scoring and focus on setting goals for departments, teams and individuals. You can increase collection efficiency while maintaining a patient-centered focus by turning metrics into incentives so your staff can self-manage, and you can reward high performers. Tying results to effort puts your operation in a more achievement-oriented mindset, leaving managers more time to work with patients and spend less time coaching reps.