Piecing together the patient billing puzzle

Jenna Tropea, Online Marketing Strategist, ImagineSoftware - Print  | 

The world of medical billing as it relates to patient satisfaction is very much like a puzzle, each individual piece as crucial as the last in creating the end result.

If you try to put it together with a few pieces missing, the big picture is never quite right. It will eventually and unexpectedly fall apart.

The statistics are aplenty, there’s a correlation between patients not understanding their medical bills, or being forced to pay in an inconvenient way, and providers struggling to collect. In a recent study, 96% of payers said they still pay a portion of their providers by check, 76% said they were confused by their medical bills and 70% of providers reported that it takes one month or longer to collect payment from a patient.

The picture looks pretty incomplete, but there are proven ways that providers can rearrange a disorderly medical billing process to create a true work of art.

Create clear communication between billing staff and patients.
Never underestimate the importance of being transparent. It’s absolutely necessary for providers to train their billing staff to answer questions about pricing over the phone and in person. Billing staff must learn that communication with patients is not a “soft skill” but something that must become second-nature. This is especially crucial during time of service, when staff is face to face with patients and must think on their feet. Explain financial policies right away, follow up with the patient if there is any confusion and be sure to use an appropriate tone. It’s something that can easily be overlooked, but how you engage in conversation with a patient is just as important as what you say. Also, consider calling your billing staff regularly to help ensure that they are being responsive.

Offer patients an online payment portal.
Patients want to pay for their bills online at their convenience. Many people are used to paying their bills online, and medical bills should be no different. When you give patients the freedom to verify recurring payments and make payments anytime and anywhere, providers will have a higher likelihood of collecting the bill in full. Online payment portals are convenient, secure and let the patient know that the provider cares about their overall experience.

Create itemized medical bills.
Patients have become the new consumers of healthcare, exploring their options and becoming braver than ever when it comes to disputing charges. It also means that they’re expecting more provider transparency. Instead of waiting on a patient to request it, send an itemized bill immediately. Allowing a patient to see a list of every procedure, medication, and charge will help them better understand exactly what they’re paying for. It creates a sense of trust between the two parties, so the likelihood of the patient switching providers is much less likely.

Offer patients a payment plan.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation /New York Times survey showed that one in five working-age Americans with insurance encountered problems paying medical bills, which often led to serious financial challenges and changes in employment and lifestyle. The truth of the matter is that many patients simply can’t pay for their medical bills in full at time of service, they need help. When providers write off past-due balances as a loss, they severely hurt the organization’s financial health in the long-run. Giving patients the ability to play flexibly over time makes a huge difference in helping fulfill financial responsibility and in Accounts Receivable. In addition, practices that have implemented payment plans report higher levels of patient satisfaction.


Jenna Tropea is the Online Marketing Strategist at ImagineSoftware and covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and patient experience. Jenna earned a Master of Business Administration from Clemson University and currently lives in Charlotte, NC.

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