6 tips for improving your self-pay collections strategy

Would you be surprised to learn that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 50 million Americans are currently uninsured? At the same time, insured patients are taking on much more financial responsibility than they did in the past with higher dollar deductible health plans and the resulting health savings accounts or tax-advantaged medical savings accounts.

In today's environment, healthcare A/R management requires providers to maximize cash collections and maintain a positive patient experience. However, many lack the necessary expertise.

Providers may think they’re doing everything necessary, but the reality is that the prevailing problem with their self-pay revenue cycle management strategy (or lack thereof) is the traditional passive approach.

Here's a new way of looking at things. Consider the following six suggestions on how to improve your self-pay collections strategy, so that money that’s rightfully yours ends up in your organization’s pocket -- and not on the table.

1. Focus on patient communication.
 Whereas real estate is all about “location, location, location,” maximizing cash collections should be about “communication, communication, communication.”

Statements are commonly sent, but it ends there for most self-pay programs. Lack of proactive communication with patients often leads to unnecessary problems and poor results. Patients need to be educated about various elements of their medical bills – if they’re unsure what they owe, the likelihood of nonpayment increases exponentially.

2. Implement the rhythm and rigor of patient collections follow-up. 
The likelihood of collecting patient money decreases by as much as 50 percent every 30 days the account ages. After three statements are sent with no activity, the chance of getting paid dwindles. By the fourth, your chances for patient payoff are as little as 6 percent.

Proactive and predictive dialing technology has vastly improved and quality revenue cycle management firms will provide staff to take patient calls (versus an automated attendant) and resolve outstanding financial commitments. The technology facilitates thousands of account touches per day as opposed to less than 100 by traditional manual dialing methods.

3. Have a payment plan structure in place for patients.
 Since nearly 15 percent of payments come from a payment plan strategy, the next step should be to offer a payment plan option to resolve medical bills. Work out a plan that is reasonable for the patient while meeting your organization’s policies and financial commitments.
For uninsured or underinsured patients, you may consider offering a discount. Getting paid a portion is better than not getting paid at all. 

4. Offer your patients technology to pay their bills.
 Your patients should be able to pay bills via some form of portal; it's an accepted practice in this online payment world. Catering to the patient’s preferences will likely result in quicker payments and reduced employee costs. Additionally, offer your patients the opportunity to receive balance-due notifications via email or text. Payment options should appeal to all patients, young or old.

5. Have the right staff in place for self-pay collections.
 It’s important to invest in people with the necessary skills to handle client-facing roles such dealing with the nuances of patient communications. They must be able to knowledgeably react to any situation and solve the patient challenges without relying solely on a “script.” If they are truly educating patients about their financial responsibility, they will likely have to understand how a balance ended up as patient responsibility, and be knowledgeable about insurance as well.

6. Establish and pay attention to KPIs. 
Are key performance indicators (KPIs) in place? Make sure you’re managing staff effectiveness and productivity when dealing with patients. Are quality programs in place? Do you drive daily performance metrics? Do you record calls for training opportunities? Do you track statement performance? Does your staff approach the patient correctly so that the payment process is optimized? If not, you need these tools in place to drive top self-pay performance.

Outsourcing these services to a revenue cycle management firm can reap major benefits that will not only decrease your bad debt and increase your cash collections, but improve your bottom line as well. More importantly, it will allow you to concentrate on delivering the best patient experience possible.

Chris Klitgaard is president of Coralville, Iowa-based healthcare revenue cycle management company MediRevv.