The Rise of the Window Shopper: 4 Steps to Collecting on High-Deductible Patients
I’m a HUGE advocate for bargain shopping online. I’m the kind of person that will sign up for an email list that will spam my inbox 5 times a day just to receive 20% off my first online purchase. Yep, I’m that person. I’m constantly looking for the best option price-wise. If I find a pair of shoes I can’t live without, I’ll check at least 10 separate websites and conduct research on availability, pricing, shipping information, and customer service reviews. Maybe one website has the pair I want full-price, but another website has them at a discount and shipping is cheaper. Oh but wait, another website is known for amazing customer service, so I won’t have a hard time sending them back if I don’t like them!
This probably sounds like a headache. I go to great lengths to save myself money because I know it will be worth it. Believe it or not, there’s a huge correlation between my nit-picky online spending habits and those of high-deductible patients in the healthcare world. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported the average annual out-of-pocket costs per patient rose almost 230% between 2006 and 2015. In turn, patients are starting to comparison shop (think of it as window shopping, if you will) before they choose a healthcare provider. No longer are the days of patients shrugging their shoulders and blindly waltzing into a specialist’s office based on the opinion of their primary care doctor, without first considering how much something like an MRI will cost. Patients are starting to ask questions in efforts to save themselves a load of medical debt.
Sounds like incredibly bad news for your practice, right? It doesn’t have to be. There are a few steps you can take to ensure that patients choose your services over any other practice, and that you receive the highest turnaround of patient payment possible.
Tell patients upfront how much services will cost. Transparency is key! This is where it becomes important to train your office staff. Make sure they know the correct way to answer questions about pricing over the phone or in person. As I mentioned, a window shopper might be on the other end of the phone, or standing right in front of you, so let them know what to expect. In all likelihood, the patient has done their research on relative pricing depending on their need, you should do the same.
Educate patients on practice payment policies. As soon as a patient walks through the door, make sure payment policies are handed to them along with your new patient paperwork. Any information about co-pays at time of service, your provider networks, and co-insurance should be provided up front, before the patient even sees a specialist. Remember, a large part of the reason practices don’t collect on patient payments is because many of those individuals don’t understand their payment responsibility upfront. Eliminate that confusion for them, and financial loss for you.
Collect co-pays or co-insurance at time of service. This is your biggest opportunity to collect from the patient, so make it easy for them. Medical billing software that includes estimation tools provide a snapshot in time of what a patient owes based on their deductible, co-insurance, or co-pay as they stand in front of your staff. The patient’s responsible charges are calculated against contracted rates with regional and national payers in real-time, providing an immediate estimate of the patient’s propensity to pay. Meaning improved revenue cycle management for you and less confusion for the patient as to how much they’re expected to pay out of pocket.
Offer discounts or payment plans. Just as I like to consider all of my payment options when shopping online, patients are beginning to negotiate. They want options, whether that’s a discounted payment rate or a patient payment plan. So, why neglect that need? Implementing a no-interest healthcare payment plan allows you to offer affordable treatment without the need to necessarily discount your services. Also, give them scheduling options. When patients know they have the choice to pay for service over 3, 6, or 12 months, you’re much more likely to collect on that service payment. Patients feel more in control and less pressure, while your practice collects on faster payments so you can focus on their care.
Making patient payment simple combined with value-based care will differentiate your practice from all others in your niche. Window shoppers become long-term patrons, and your practice puts more focus on what really matters, caring for patients.