Patient collection pitfalls that lose loyal patients

August, 23 2016

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A loyal patient is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to keeping a medical practice's operations running smoothly.  In fact, this is true for any industry.  When your business produces products and services that keep people coming back, they'll become a regular source of revenue, and they'll happily tout about your brand to their friends and associates.  The Harvard Business Review reports, "Acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 time more expensive than retaining an existing one."  The article's author also cites a study by Bain & Company, whereby it was shown that a 5% increase in customer retention rates can boost profits from 5% to 95%, depending on the industry.

Although customer retention is a challenging element in any business, the healthcare industry faces a particularly difficult task in terms of keeping people happy while still collecting payment.  In the retail world, a consumer money is paid to the company in exchange for the goods at the time the product is purchased.  Most services are paid immediately after the deed is done.  In healthcare, however, revenue cycle management is a complicated process involving an assortment of entities, which results in a lengthy process and the ever-present need to collect payment from patients when it's complete.

It can be easy to approach this subject in a manner that turns your loyal patients toward your competitor if you're not careful.  

[CHECKLIST] Make sure you're optimized to collect patient payments.

Here are a few patient collection pitfalls that lose loyal patients:

Overzealous phone calls and mail reminders. 

Sure, you want to get your money, and it's possible that some of your patients honestly did just forget about their bills.  On the other hand, medical bills can be quite expensive, and many of the patients who owe you funds may simply not be able to pay your statement.

When a patient is unable to pay his or her bill, tons of phone calls and reminders will only make them feel worse.  This negative feeling may eventually lead them to seek care elsewhere, and you may never even receive payment after your efforts. 

It's important to maintain patient-friendly billing practices to get the job done right. This includes being less intrusive with collections follow-ups, or securing payment information prior to care so you don't have to hound patients later on.

A loose or lacking financial policy.   

The  more leeway there is in your financial policy, the more you're opening yourself up for loopholes and lack of payment.  Beyond simply having a strong financial policy, you must use it consistently.  Train your staff thoroughly and provide refreshers of their expectations regularly to ensure that each person is applying the financial policy consistently across the board. Verifiying eligibility prior to care can save a lot of policy hassle later on.

Exceptions do arise, but they should be far and few between.  Proper training should allow staffers to identify a resolution that fits within the facility's guidelines most of the time.  When a true outlier situation arises, be sure to document it in the financial policy so it can be easily addressed, should it arise in the future.

STRATEGIES TO COLLECT MORE RIGHT AWAY

Sending a statement without having the financial policy conversation. 

Your financial policy should never be a surprise to your patients.  If they receive a bill but have never been notified of your policies, they may be off-put by the situation.  They may also find themselves in situations whereby they're unable to pay and should have sought assistance.  

Alternatively, an upfront conversation with each patient will allow the RCM team to explain payment expectations and address patients' questions on the spot.  Consider having your employees ask for a financial commitment during this discussion to solidify the business side of the transaction.

Sticking with the status quo.  

"Do it like we've always done it" is never an acceptable solution.  Regularly seek feedback from the staff, and welcome brainstorming sessions so people can share their thoughts.  Shop around and find tools that improve patients' experiences.  Enhanced billing systems, discounts, automated credit card payments, and online bill pay provide a plethora of opportunities to help bridge the collections gap.

A loyal patient is a vital piece of a medical practice's puzzle, but so is its revenue stream.  It's important to find a balance in patient collection practices to ensure proper payment is made without offending or scaring off your patients.  With a little work and a lot of empathy, you'll find an approach that your patients can appreciate, helping to keep your RCM flowing fluidly.


What kind of patient collection pitfalls have you discovered in your practice?  Join in the conversation, below, or let us know how to balance patient loyalty while keeping your books balanced!

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