Effective Collection Strategies in Uncertain Times

Current Landscape
Many medical practices are facing financial uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Recent research cited in the Practice Pulse report reveals that while their primary focus is on caring for patients and keeping team members safe and healthy, providers have expressed growing concern over their revenue cycle and personnel management.
As practices shift operational models and embrace appointment re-books, remote workforces, telehealth, and staggered appointments, many are asking what impact this will have on their AR. This is a growing concern as patients are navigating the same financial concerns as providers.
We spoke with Dave Hirsch, a seasoned financial healthcare executive, and entrepreneur, the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of iQuantified Management Services (“iQMS”).  His firm specializes in extended business office services and legacy accounts receivable services, as well as traditional bad debt collection.  He has outlined several steps that providers can take now, and over the coming months, to help with patient collection outcomes and lower overall revenue risk. Read on for suggestions of strategies that your organization may wish to consider.
Update Communication Strategy
Many individuals are likely to be under increased financial pressure and stress as they manage competing priorities. Now is the time to update communications plans with an eye toward being sensitive to current patient circumstances. The art of listening becomes paramount. 
iQMS suggests incorporating proactive, empathetic messaging, coupled with updated agent training, to let patients know there is sensitivity to their new difficulties. The company also recommends changes to the frequency and tone of outbound callers to avoid excessive interactions and undue stress on patients. To further implement alternative communication pathways, consider rolling out a test program using text messaging to communicate with patients, should they so agree. This process allows the patients to control more of the interaction, without feeling put on the spot. This leads to a heightened comfort level when discussing challenging financial situations.   
With the rise in national unemployment rates, now is a good time to review your oral and written scripts, and make sure they reflect sensitivity toward potential employment changes and fluctuating family circumstances.  A number of your patients are likely facing significant financial status changes, which may significantly impact their ability to resolve balances due.
Above all else, we need to convey to the patients our understanding and empathy, and our willingness to find common ground.  

Insurance coverage screening 

Another recommended first step is to review a practice’s insurance screening procedure. Verifying insurance coverage could perhaps be the best means to maximize AR in these times where patients may have changes in current insurance coverage and status – changes that may not have been under their control. Taking this time upfront to validate patient portion responsibility will avoid patient bills that ultimately should have been billed to payers first. 

Consider discounts 

Some practices have indicated they are relaxing their offers of prompt-pay incentives to encourage patients to resolve open balances within 30 days. Some are also offering additional discounts later in the aging process. This is a good time to consider short-term plans in the interest of resolving more open account balances.  In these days of mandated business disclosures, and the associated financial impacts, consider offering a significant discount on the patient portion of accounts (where allowed by law or per your payer contracts).  This will alleviate some of the patients’ financial burdens, and indicate your understanding of their particular situation.  Practices also need to be cognizant of consumer protections recently announced under the CARES Act.

Structure payment plans and delay bad debt collections 

As indicated above, many patients may not have the economic means to fully resolve their balances due to loss of employment or other financial issues. Offering payment plans is a first-line approach to establish a relationship with the patient and to demonstrate an appreciation of their individual circumstances. Building this trust now will help accelerate the resolution of their balances within the limits of their income, and as their situations improve. 
It is recommended that payment plans be secured with a credit card or bank account, and set on a recurring payment schedule. Our experience has shown that the sooner you have a card or bank account on file, the more likely the patient balance will be paid. In addition, be cautious of making referrals to bad debt too quickly.  As an elective process, it’s a consideration that will resonate with patients in both financial and social distress. 
Taking the right steps today may better position your organization when the economy and healthcare begin their recovery. Consider contacting a new or existing collections vendor to help to align a strategy that will be effective during today’s landscape. If your existing collections representative hasn’t reached out to discuss some of the recommendations we’ve made, we suggest you reach out and express your interest in providing them with such services.
MTBC Health – IPS Group Purchasing Organization (GPO)  focuses on building relationships with suppliers and vendors like iQMS. Visit the GPO page here, for additional information on a no-cost, no-commitment resource for practice savings on patient collections and more.
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