Dr. John Noseworthy wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that, “Practicing physicians despair that the focus on costs has reduced them to cogs in the health care business machine, with daily reminders of ever-growing productivity expectations on top of crushing regulatory and clerical burdens.” This poignant observation still rings true.
Money and medicine have always been strange bedfellows. But physicians spend years studying medicine and often land in debt pursuing their degree. Residencies can be brutal. A practice can be costly to build. And continuing medical education credits require constant accrual. All this logic doesn’t make it any easier to secure compensation from a patient who is dragging their feet in paying outstanding bills.
The following are some strategies you can apply to secure payment while preserving a positive relationship with your patients.
Transparency. PatientEngagementHIT.com emphasizes the importance of transparency regarding healthcare costs as well as the billing process. This is easier said than done but letting patients know upfront how much services and testing are going to cost will help them be better prepared and budget for the bills that will arrive later.
Gentle follow-up. A casual phone call checking in on an outstanding bill can help move the process along. Confirm that the billing information was received and remind the patient of the date payment is due. If they respond by saying they haven’t received anything—have them provide their address again. Document the outreach and response. Giving a patient the benefit of the doubt can be time-consuming, but it can help keep your relationship intact.
Train staff to explain. When you work in a specialized field day after day you forget that the rest of the world does not have an intimate knowledge of the processes and procedure you are so familiar with. This can happen to anyone—even your administrative staff. Develop a script or checklist for staff to remind them of the information a patient needs to be prepared for the billing process.
Each of these steps costs time and money—resources that are already in short supply when running a medical practice. Finding a balance can be challenging when providing the best care while getting compensated appropriately so that you can meet your obligations as well. If securing payment continues to be a challenge to the success of your practice, you may want to seek the advice of a business coach with expertise in medical practices.
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