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How to equip staff to actually ask patients for payment.
In the three previous articles of this four-part series tackling the high-deductible landscape of healthcare today, we’ve laid out how we got ‘here’, the importance of preparing a patient financial policy and the use of technology tools to boost your patient collections. This final article in the series is all about how to equip staff to actually ask patients for payment. Sounds simple, but it really can be difficult for some and even awkward for others. By understanding the psychological needs of both staff and patients, we can bolster staff’s ability to not only ask for money, but also win patients over in the process!
It’s essential that staff understand that many patients are frustrated by the changes in healthcare. They might have paid just $15 for an office visit in years past and are not mentally or financially prepared to pay their deductibles. For years HMO plans caused patients to grow accustomed to paying only nominal fees at point of service, yet many of these patients are now on high deductible plans that they hardly understand.
When we approach our patients with the intent to educate and remind them of their financial responsibility, we must also keep in mind that a direct but kind answer will get the best results. In other words, letting patients know that you’re on their side, ready to offer options as they adjust to the new plan and possibly your new financial policy, is the best strategy.
For starters, it’s crucial that staff not be put in the uncomfortable position of catching patients off guard, thus creating more hostile and negative reactions and interactions. Whenever possible, patients need to be informed of your financial policy before the day of their appointment.
At the time of scheduling, patients should be reminded of the policy if they’ve previously seen and signed it, they also need to be told specifically that if their deductible hasn’t been met, they will be responsible to pay for the visit and services in full.
Some patients will scratch their heads and not understand terms we consider common, like “high deductible”. When your scheduling staff is prepared to answer basic questions and take the extra minute or two to explain the payment structure, your front desk and/or check out staff will encounter more prepared patients, boosting their odds at successfully collecting balance dues.
Be sure your financial policy is introduced to each new patient and signed. It also needs to be on your website and accessible via your patient portal. Knowing patients have been prepped will give your staff more confidence in asking for payment.
Giving all staff members a greater understanding of what patient collections mean to the practice increases employee buy-in. By showing them a visual dollar amount of what is being left on the table when the practice fails to collect patient portion, can really make it click. Bring it full circle by measuring, setting reasonable goals, instituting incentives and explanations of how the increase in revenue will be applied to the practice - now you have a team that’s on board and gets it!
A great way to ease the pain for staff in asking patients for money is by creating scripts and practicing how they can tackle patient complaints and excuses regarding paying at time of service.
One example is when patients say they didn't bring their checkbook. Remind the patient in a soft way like, “I apologize, we try to always inform patients at the time of scheduling that they will need to be prepared to pay balances at the time of their visit. However, for your convenience, we do accept credit card payment.”
If the patient continues to balk, one strategy is to offer to accept partial payment saying something like, “I understand, Mr. Smith. I can take 50% now and give you a self-addressed envelope to send us the other half within 10 days, will that work for you?”
For this strategy to work, your staff needs to understand what their options are and how to communicate them to patients in a way that expresses a willingness to work with them.
Coming to an agreement of how payment will be made is very important and needs to be documented so that billing staff can follow up and remind patients of that agreement. Patients are more likely to pay their balances after having made a verbal agreement with your practice to do so.
If your practice has a clear financial policy in place and is using technology tools that support efforts to collect, you’ve got two of the three key elements. Now, make sure staff are equipped to inform and remind patients of payment expectations and ask for payment confidently while expressing that the practice is on their side and willing to work with them. After all, building strong clinic-patient relationships is good for both patient and practice health!