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5 Critical Steps to Patient Payments – Part 2

In my last post, I referenced an infographic on patient payments that did a great job encapsulating its current state. The numbers on patient medical debt are pretty large, and they continue to swell as patients now bear about 30% of their medical costs.

The shift in payments means a dual paradigm shift needs to occur for providers: 1) Attitudinal and 2) Operational. There are five steps that can enable providers to successfully make this shift.

Last time we talked about the first two steps on the transition to a patient-centered attitude throughout the organization. Specifically:

Step 1. Organizational alignment
Step 2. Patient empathy

Today we’ll talk about the remaining three steps required for an operational shift toward greater patient payments.

Step 3. Simplify Statements

Let’s say you follow step 2 in my last blog and provide your patients an estimate prior to service. If your bills are confusing, incorrect, or surprising to patients, you will have unraveled all the good that you created with your estimate.

I’m reminded of an LA Times article written last year by a reporter who had a nightmare-ish experience trying to decipher the codes, abbreviations and the mysterious physician name that appeared on his medical bill. As I recall, even the provider wasn’t entirely sure about some of the references on the bill. It required multiple phone calls and special requests to get a clear, concise translation of the charges.

The healthcare provider could have easily prevented this patient’s aggravation and dodged a boat-load of negative press by simply providing a concise bill, written in easily understandable English. I understand that including insurance codes makes it simpler to interact with the insurance payer if the need arises. However, there is no rule that prevents having it both ways – plain English and Medical codes can reside happily together on one statement. Patients will certainly appreciate it, and they’ll show that appreciation by making payments.

Remember, the very last thing patients interact with is their statement. What that last impression specifically looks like is entirely under the control of the provider. Often it’s not the clinical treatment that keeps patients returning, it’s their experience. Simplifying their statements is an opportunity to create a positive experience and keep patients coming back.

Step 4. Make it Easy to Pay

Payment Plans

Much like clinical plans, payment plans should be crafted especially for the needs of the patient and delivered in a timely manner. The most advantageous approach is not reactive – “call us if you need assistance,” but rather proactive – “let me help you understand costs and review options for paying them.” The ideal time to offer a payment plan is at the time the cost estimate is delivered to the patient. That way, the financial matters can be put to rest prior to patients checking in for their service. It’s one less thing they need worry about, and it sets you on the path to collecting greater patient payments.

Developing the optimal payment plan for your patients means knowing a little something about them in advance. It is helpful to segment your patient population using data to predict and track the results. The best approach is to use multiple points of data to form your segments, as singular elements such as credit scores, are not reliable indicators of likely to pay. They also shed no light on what payment plans should be offered to which patients. My advice is to leverage predictive analytics as it is becoming the new norm in deriving patient insight from data.

Having reliable, comprehensive insight means you can provide payment options that are structured to not only address each patient’s individual situation but deliver the greatest return for you.

Step 5. Make it Convenient to Pay

Payment Channels

A growing population of patients prefer to use convenient channels such as: online, mobile, phone, kiosks, and patient portal. Those who prefer to pay electronically often bring an added advantage of preferring to receive their statements electronically as well. It’s convenient for patients and brings time and cost savings to providers.

Reducing Patient Days in Accounts Receivable

Storing credit and debit cards for repeat, recurring, and installment payments has been a successful tactic for other industries. As of 2017, only about 20% of providers were offering this convenience. I suspect this percentage will grow as healthcare shifts toward consumerism and patient-centered strategies.

A couple of years ago, I read an article about an Illinois-based medical practice that implemented a card-on-file program and, as a result, reduced accounts receivable by 28% in six months. While that’s an impressive outcome, there are operational aspects that must be considered before engaging a card-on-file program. Specifically, data security. You definitely don’t want to risk a breach of your patients’ payment information.

Even so, there are data security experts that protect card data all day long so don’t let security be a deterrent to implementing programs that are proven to drive patient payments.

As the healthcare industry continues to embrace patient-centered strategies and proactive engagement, I fully expect that when I see next year’s Infographic on patient payments, it will paint a much brighter picture for providers.

Chirag Bhargava is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Chi-Matic. With problem solving and automation in his DNA, Chirag is passionate in his quest to help healthcare organizations with process improvements and maximizing the use of technology to improve operating margins, overall revenue cycle processes and patient experience. Prior to co-founding Chi-Matic, Chirag spent 14 years at Epic managing revenue cycle installation and optimization, including multi-state technical rollouts, overseeing post-live Epic revenue cycle success for academic organizations, and building executive relationships across Epic revenue cycle customers. Chirag holds a Bachelor’s degree from IIT Kanpur, Master’s from University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign and Executive MBA from University of Wisconsin.

Chirag Bhargava

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