Billing Clinics Improve Collections at Wisconsin's Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

New billing clinics at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare Southeast Wisconsin have been extremely popular with patients and ease collections, says Coreen Dicus-Johnson, senior vice president of physician and revenue operations at Wheaton Franciscan.

Every month, patients have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with Wheaton Franciscan billing personnel and review not just the hospital bills but also the payor's explanation of benefits and any other related medical paperwork they don’t understand.

"Patients are extremely satisfied with this service and it helps our collection efforts," Ms. Dicus-Johnson says. "Once they understand what is going on, they want to pay the bill, right then and there."

She says billing personnel are just as enthusiastic about staffing the clinics, even though it means stretching the workday an hour or two for the sessions, which run from 2 to 6 p.m. one day a month. "They love the patient contact," Ms. Dicus-Johnson says. "They love using their skills to help someone solve a problem."

How it works
Wheaton Franciscan advertises its billing clinics in statements sent to patients. The clinics rotate through three Wheaton Franciscan sites – in Racine, Wauwatosa and Brookfield, Wis. Attendees tend to be Medicare beneficiaries and patients with multiple visits, such as physician therapy sessions. Initially, sessions were scheduled later in the evening, but patients preferred the late-afternoon hours.

Patients are required to call in and make an appointment. "Because it's prescheduled we can do research in advance," Ms. Dicus-Johnson says. "The billing clerk looks for open balances look back six months and gets the lay of the land. This helps facilitate a more meaningful conversation."

Patients arrive at the billing clinic sometimes with great thick stacks of EOBs that are longer than the novel War and Peace, according to Ms. Dicus-Johnson. "When you have someone across the table to show your documents to it highly appreciated," she says.

Several hundred people have come to the clinics since they started in March, but attendance has varied wildly, from 200 to two per session. "We're still learning about scheduling," Ms. Dicus-Johnson says. She says attendance may be influenced by the cycle for high-deductible payments. Patients seem to be more worried about bills before they reach their deductible later in the year.

Even though billing clinic personnel know how many people will come, they cannot predict how long each session will take, so extra billing personnel and deployed and are given other work to do in case they are not needed.

The payoffs

Ms. Dicus-Johnson uses the sessions as a sounding board for hospital billing policy. For example, the health system can learn how to make bills more understandable and patients can help monitor outside vendors involved in the billing process. She says the health system recently changed a vendor due to complaints heard at the billing clinic.

"We have collected a lot of money in the clinics, but I'd be hard-pressed to find an ROI," Ms. Dicus-Johnson adds. "We haven’t done a cost-benefit analysis." But she believes the billing clinic's biggest value is immeasurable — to improve overall patient loyalty. "We have a relationship with one person going forward," she says. "What is it the MasterCard advertisement says? 'Priceless.' "

Learn more about Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.

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