Patient balances and the number of people who are at risk for high deductibles are on the increase. Many patients face deductibles of $5,000 or more under a number of Affordable Care Act exchange plans. As the shift in patient financial responsibility from employer to employee and other risk factors make it more difficult for physicians and health care practitioners to collect balances, one can reduce accounts receivable by better use of payment technology.
We surveyed our national workshop attendees to see how often and how well they use technology in their practices. Half of those surveyed said they are gradually getting the hang of payment technology, but cannot qualify themselves as “tech super-users” yet. The following are some tools and tips to get you closer to that super-user level.
Make your website work for you
A patient portal is a secure place where patients can handle a number of tasks, and implementing a portal counts towards Meaningful Use Part 2. Currently, 34% of our attendees have a patient portal, but the 22% who say they are in the process of creating one show that portal popularity is on the increase.
Patients can complete the following activities online through a patient portal:
Bill pay: An online bill payment option through a portal provides patients with a convenient and reliable way to settle balances. Most people already pay for things like household bills or student loans online, and appreciate the convenience. Yet, 60% of our attendees don’t accept online payments from patients. Many of our clients who employ online bill pay tell us their patients love it. A happy patient is a patient who will return and refer.
Scheduling: This may seem like an odd addition to a payment technology list, but when patients can request appointments through a portal, staff spend less time waiting on the phone for patients to flip through their calendars looking for a date. Instead, staff can use that time on valuable tasks like following up on patient balances.
Bring in batch eligibility
Once you start patient preregistration through a patient portal, you can use batch eligibility to finish the job. This involves a company “batching” appointments via your practice management software and transmitting them to payer eligibility systems. This process happens overnight, and you have eligibility and benefits reports ready before the next day’s patients arrive. You can do away with waiting weeks or months for rejected claims and delayed payments. A solid 41% of our respondents use batch eligibility in their practices.
Introduce cost estimators
When you use cost estimators, like 53% of our attendees do, you help patients navigate the cost of their procedures. Now you do not have to wait for the billing office to file a claim and post the insurance payment. You can enter the appropriate CPT codes and patient benefit information into the estimator and provide patients with free estimates of out-of-pocket expenses for medical procedures, like imaging and surgery. Once patients have an idea of their financial obligations, you open the door to a financing discussion.
Offer financing options
Since patients shoulder more of the financial costs for their medical care than in the past, financing is increasingly important. Financing companies offer a range of programs that help patients finance their out-of-pocket health care expenses.
Patients apply and qualify for a line of credit online. Unlike a payment plan offered through a practice that does not guarantee patients will pay, with patient financing companies most of your fee is paid upfront and patients set up their payment plans directly with the financing company. Since patients can spread out the cost, their medical bills are more manageable and they can afford elective procedures that might be out of reach without financing.
Use electronic remittance advice
Electronic remittance advice (ERA) is the most effective tool in decreasing time spent in the billing office. With ERA, staff can stop manually keying data from an explanation of benefits. Instead, the payer sends an electronic file that is auto-posted. This is coordinated through your clearinghouse and it frees up billers to focus their attention on the follow-up of unpaid claims.
Set up electronic funds transfer
Payments are electronically transmitted and posted by line item on your practice management system and in your practice’s bank account using electronic funds transfer (EFT). It is set up through a clearinghouse company and gets payment in your bank account fast. Not only do you reduce the number of checks staff must deposit, you also lessen the possibility of employee theft since payments are securely transferred straight into the practice bank account.
Use remote deposit capture
Although EFT reduces the number of insurance checks that come into the office, it does not eliminate them. However, remote deposit capture (RDC) is a scanner that digitizes paper checks into an automated clearinghouse transaction, and deposits the funds into the practice’s bank account. Most credit card vendors and banks offer RDC.
Do not just think about implementing more payment tech tools in your practice — start the process now. You will utilize staff and resources better, and you will improve the revenue cycle as well.
Arielle Nelson, MFA, is a contributing writer for KarenZupko & Associates Inc. in Chicago.
Disclosure: Nelson has no relevant financial disclosures.