Jun 8, 2021
How to Handle Collections Reasonably and Compassionately
A significant percentage of people had trouble paying medical bills even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In light of the lingering effects of the crisis, including high unemployment, it is still important for physicians to make a special effort to handle collections fairly, reasonably and compassionately. This article offers some strategies medical practices can use in dealing with delinquent payments to ensure optimal outcomes for all involved.
How to handle collections reasonably and compassionately
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, almost 25% of U.S. patients have trouble paying a medical bill. This has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 22 million people reporting being unemployed in the first four weeks after a national emergency was declared.
When the pandemic first struck, many doctors offered bill forgiveness and leeway. But, going forward, it will still be important for physicians to handle collections reasonably and compassionately.
Investigate root causes
There are many root causes to collection problems. Some patients may be unhappy with the outcome of an appointment or treatment plan and need to discuss the matter before paying. Others may have simply forgotten or misplaced the bill. In many cases, particularly given the sudden economic downturn, patients could be facing unemployment or other serious personal issues such as illness or a death in the family.
There’s also the possibility that an insurer or employee at your practice has made a billing mistake. Regularly assess your billing policies and procedures to determine whether errors are occurring and at what rate.
To establish a solid baseline for collections, it’s important to be transparent about pricing and insurance coverage at the start of treatment. Have conversations upfront with patients about billing, fees and their balances.
To facilitate an informed discussion, you and your staff must have a firm grasp on each patient’s insurance coverage. So, collect and vigilantly update vital patient information such as demographics, insurance provider, deductibles and co-pays. You also may want to ask patients for consent to put their credit cards on file so you can charge them for any amounts remaining after insurer payouts.
Consider a payment program
Explore the idea of offering payment plans to patients. You can administer such a program internally or through a third-party provider. Payment-plan programs typically involve:
Creating and distributing printed or electronic statements and bills,
Setting up notifications in your electronic health records system to notify staff when payments are due, and
Training staff members to make reminder calls to patients who fall behind on their payments.