We see it all the time, a patient visits their doctor’s office to seek treatment and then receives a bill in the mail for their portion of the medical expenses. When a patient receives the bill, they are often alarmed at the amount that is due and may not have the funding to pay the balance in full. In a recent study conducted by UCLA, it is estimated that there is $140 billion in medical debt that has been reported on credit reports (VeryWellHealth, 2021). In fact, this research study found that one in every five consumers was already in collections prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As cases of COVID-19 increased in 2020, many consumers feared visiting their doctor’s office that they avoided their routine office visits, and/or lost their employment further impacting a patient’s ability to pay for any medical expenses. As providers continued to keep their offices open, many providers witnessed a decrease in patient volume while also seeing a reduction in revenue. According to a recent article published in Medical Economics (2021), 55% of practices were impacted by a decrease in revenue while 60% were impacted by a decrease in overall patient volume. Combined with the number of patients that were already in medical debt and/or collections, many practices faced a financial crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to become more stable in early 2021, many patients felt comfortable returning to visit their doctor and/or were able to secure employment, providing patients with employer-sponsored insurance coverage. With the current rise of COVID-19 cases increasing again, practices are left with the ongoing challenges of attempting to maximize revenue collection with the risk of history repeating itself and the patient’s inability to pay their medical bills or avoiding their office visits.
Contrary to belief, consumers actually want to pay their medical bills and are seeking more payment options. According to the 2020 Trends in Healthcare Annual Report, providers and consumers must adapt to a new payment experience in order to enhance how they interact with one another. In addition, more than half of consumers would consider changing their provider for a better payment experience. One may ask, what constitutes a better payment experience? Consumers are showing a higher demand for contactless payments and the ability to work with their providers to create a payment plan or auto-payment options. Unfortunately, many providers have not adapted to their consumer’s needs and continue to operate with traditional methods creating dissatisfaction amongst their consumers
How can providers change their operations to facilitate a more consumer-friendly experience for their patients? Front-office staff play a pivotal role when interacting with patients and should be collecting up-to-date contact information to ensure patients are communicated with effectively, have the most recent insurance data to avoid any processing delays, and should collect a patient’s consent ahead of time for new features such as eBills, texting, and payment preferences. EZ Claim customers can streamline their revenue collection opportunities by partnering with BillFlash for innovative billing opportunities and various payment collection features that consumers highly desire. While nobody can predict if this recent wave of COVID-19 cases will lead to another quarantine phase or not, it is important for providers and consumers to enhance how they interact with one another to create solutions for healthcare needs.
For more information about automated patient statements and patient payment options, contact EZClaim, NexTrust BillFlash, GetPaid@BillFlash.com, or call BillFlash at 435.940.9123 (Option 3). For more details about EZClaim’s medical billing software, visit their website, e-mail their support team, or call them at 877.650.0904.
Hui, K. (2021). Americans owe $140 billion in medical debt. Here’s how to avoid it. Very Well Health. Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/medical-debt-medicaid-study-5194846
InstaMed (2021). The Trends in Healthcare Payments (11th Annual Report) 2020. Retrieved from https://www.instamed.com/white-papers/trends-in-healthcare-payments-annual-report/
Luz, M. (2021). How an effective revenue cycle management strategy can help reduce burnout. Medical Economics. Retrieved from https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/how-an-effective-revenue-cycle-management-strategy-can-help-reduce-burnout
Educating patients about their payment options can improve your medical practice revenue.
Imagine for a moment that you are planning to buy a car. Before you even enter a car lot, you do some research on the type of car you need, the features you are looking for, and how much you are able to spend. You might even get an opinion from a friend or check out reviews online.
After you have gathered all the information you need, you feel you are ready to start shopping—and confident that you might even get some new keys by the end of the day.
This is very similar to how most business transactions work: They have a need, they research the best ways to meet their need, and they make a purchase.
However, the healthcare industry doesn’t follow this formula. Your medical practice is a business just like any other, but your customers—aka, patients—often seek out your services not knowing exactly what they will be “buying” from you, nor how much they will be paying. Add in health insurance and surprise bills and you have a confusing hodgepodge of information that calculates the patient’s final bill, which they likely will not see for several weeks.
The current system is inefficient, and it is part of the reason that up to 30% of patient bills go unpaid every year.
Changing the Patient’s Financial Experience
Many practices have improved their revenue flow by simply treating their patients more like customers. In other words, they educate them on the financial side of things, as well as how to manage their health.
In a recent NexTrust webinar, three-quarters of poll respondents (doctors and practice managers) said that they speak to patients about their payment options. Thirty-one percent said that they currently use electronic communications, and only 8% use printed materials (flyers, signs, etc.).
While speaking to patients is a good start, getting payment information in writing is crucial to driving this information home. Patients already have a lot to remember regarding their care. A simple handout on how and when to make their payments can make it much easier for patients to manage their payment responsibility.
Most providers—over 90%—educate patients about how to pay on their statements. It certainly doesn’t hurt to communicate this information this way, but don’t rely on it exclusively. Most people skim the statement to see how much they owe and most miss important instructions.
So, as you educate patients on their payment options, keep these four key areas in mind to improve your medical practice revenue:
1) Set Clear Expectations about Payments
The first step in financially engaging your patients is to remind them you are a business, and that you require regular, on-time payments to keep your doors open. Patients often don’t see their doctors as business owners. A simple statement upfront about your payment expectations encourages patients to be more proactive about paying their bills on time.
2) Educate Patients about Your Payments Process
When patients understand your payments process, they are empowered to be more proactive in participating in it. You know where billing and payments fit into your practice workflow, so make sure patients understand that, too. If you require copays to be paid before a visit, communicate that beforehand so they can be prepared. In addition to that, also communicate clearly about when any remaining balances are due.
3) Push Your Online Payment Options
The best thing you can do to increase payments is to educate patients about their online payment options. Don’t just say “We accept payments online” and leave it at that. Show them where to go to complete payments. Also tell them about the variety of payment options available to them.
For example, EZClaim customers have several online payment options:
• Guest Pay: Patients can quickly pay their balance without having to set up an account
• MyProviderLink.com: If the patient wants access to more features (such as the ability to check their balance without having to call the office or to set up automatic payments), they can register for an account through BillFlash’s payment portal
• LinkPay: The practice sends a payment link to the patient before their visit, so they can pay what they owe before the visit starts
• PlanPay: Split up larger bills into smaller monthly payments
Online payments are the future of healthcare. So, make sure your online payment options are front and center whenever you bill patients. This could include a note in their statement directing them to pay online, handing out instruction cards on how to pay online, and posting signs throughout your office directing patients to your payment portal.
4) Reach Out to Patients You Haven’t Seen Lately
Forty percent of patients defer or skip care because they don’t think they can afford it. Make sure you get the word out to your entire patient base that you can accommodate any patient’s financial circumstances, whether that means setting up a payment plan or delaying payment for a few months. If patients know they have affordable payment options, they will be more likely to seek you out when they need help, rather than going somewhere else or deferring care entirely.
Empowering Patients to Take Ownership Over Their Healthcare Bills
Most patients want to pay their medical bills promptly and in full, but being in the dark about what they are being charged for and what their payment options are makes that difficult. The patient financial experience matters, and when you educate your patients on their online payment options and are transparent about costs, they usually respond positively, and you will improve your medical practice revenue.
Learn more about the pay services available to EZClaim customers by visiting their partner’s website, BillFlash.com, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about EZClaim’s medical billing software solution, visit their website at EZClaim.com.
[ Written by Angela Carter with BillFlash ]