Healthcare Execs Want To Collect More From Patients

Posted on May 26, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Every healthcare provider wants to get paid, of course. However, collecting the ever-growing portion of revenue that patients owe is tough, and getting tougher. That being said, the majority of providers recognize that they have a big problem and are working to boost the volume and speed of patient payments, a new study finds.

The study, which is sponsored by claims management and patient payments vendor Navicure in affiliation with Porter Research, connected with 300 of professionals, including practice administrators (36%), C-suite executives (25%) and billing managers (35%). Forty-one percent of organizations had 1 to 10 providers, 31% had 11 to 50 providers, 12% had 51 to 100 providers and 17% had more than 100 providers.

In responding to the survey, 63% of survey respondents said that patient payment processes were a high priority for their leadership teams. Their challenges in collecting from patients included patients’ inability to pay (31%), difficulty educating patients about the financial responsibility (26%) and slow-paying patients (25%).

It’s not surprising that collecting patient payments is a priority for many organizations. The study found that patient payment revenue made up 11% to 20% of total revenue for almost a third of organizations that responded. Twenty percent of organizations said patient payments accounted for 21% to 30% of total revenue, and for 23%, patient payments accounted for more than 31% of total revenue.

More than half (57%) of respondents said they educate patients about their financial responsibility, but only 42% said they always estimate the patient’s cost at the time of service. What’s more, few have implemented steps that might streamline payment. Sixty-two percent do not offer credit card on file programs, 52% don’t have automated payment plans in place, and 57% don’t send electronic statements to patients.

To address these issues, Navicure recommends that providers make several changes in their patient payment processes. These include viewing patients’ eligibility information prior to or at the time of service, collecting copays and outstanding balances, creating care estimates and enrolling patients in any available payment plans.

While the survey doesn’t address this issue directly, it also doesn’t hurt to make bills more readable. I’ve read accounts of some hospital billing departments and medical office staffers spending hours on the phone with patients going over charges. Not only does this frustrate the patients, and undermine their relationship with your organization, it wastes a lot of time. Cleaning up bill formats can go a long way toward smoothing out routine payment issues.

On that note, it probably makes sense to roll out patient-friendly billing technologies. More than 70% of respondents who have replaced paper statements with online bill payment and e-statements would recommend this technology to a peer, and 42% of respondents using automated payment plans were very or completely satisfied.

Ultimately, however, collecting more from patients probably calls for changes in policy, the research suggests. While 35% ask for a partial deposit before service, and 26% collect all of what a patient owes before service, 18% of respondents said they didn’t collect anything before prior to service, and 21% said they didn’t charge until claims were processed.