3 tips for collecting high patient balances

Technology can help healthcare organizations engage patients, help them plan to pay in full and make it easy to pay on time.
Operations Patient Experience RCM

Collecting from patients with high balances is time-consuming and costly for healthcare organizations. In fact, 1 in 3 patients whose balances exceed $200 do not pay them in full. And even though balances over $200 represent just 25% of all patient obligations, they represent 45% of patient obligations that go uncollected after five months.   

For specialty groups and other organizations that often are faced with high patient financial responsibility, the dilemma is especially problematic. Their billing staffs spend significant time and resources attempting to collect patients’ share of their financial responsibility—but they only expect to collect a fraction of what they’re owed.

How can providers proactively help patients pay their bills on time and in full? During a Phreesia webinar, Andrew Cho, Practice Administrator at Advanced Vision Care and Liz Acosta, Chief Operating Officer at Carrell Clinic, a division of OrthoLoneStar, shared how their organizations communicate with patients about significant charges, help them make a plan to pay and make it easy for them to pay on time.

Keep reading to learn about their best practices for increasing and accelerating patient revenue.

1. Be transparent with patients about their financial responsibility
Because many patients come to Advanced Vision Care for surgeries, Cho said it’s essential that its staff helps patients understand what they will owe well before their procedure, so they’re ready to pay when the bill comes.  

“Transparency is super-important, especially with high-balance procedures,” Cho said. “It’s really important that we break down patients’ financial responsibility. Most patients don’t understand their insurance and explanation of benefits, so it makes it a lot easier when we explain it.”

Automated Eligibility and Benefits (E&B) checks can help avoid surprises by quickly and easily giving staff the information they need about patient coverage. At Advanced Vision Care, staff can reach out to patients via text to quickly engage patients and make sure they’re aware of their financial responsibility. Collecting patients’ copays and outstanding balances during the intake process prior to a patient’s visit also can minimize what they will owe later.

Similarly, it’s important to let patients know right away if they received additional, unexpected procedures or services during their visit, Acosta said, such as an injection. Her team sends out notifications immediately after patients’ appointments when that occurs to keep them up to date on what they may owe.

“We try to overcommunicate with patients,” she said.

2. Send frequent reminders to patients about their balance due and allow them to put a card on file
To improve collections, healthcare organizations should frequently and consistently communicate with patients about their balance due. But calling patients to remind them about unpaid bills can be a significant burden for staff and isn’t necessarily effective.

Automated text or email payment reminders remove that burden and make it easy to notify patients when they have an outstanding balance. Cho noted that this automated outreach also helps staff avoid uncomfortable conversations with patients who are carrying outstanding balances.

“Patients are a lot more open to paying charges not covered by insurance when they get an alert prior to visiting our office,” Cho said. “It’s a lot more awkward when they’re in the office and we have to have a conversation in which they’re surprised they owe money.”

Patients also are more likely to pay on time and in full if their provider makes it easier for them to do so. When patients can put a credit card on file with consent to charge it when they have a balance, they don’t have to take action every time they receive a bill. That helps healthcare organizations get paid faster—without even mailing a statement.

3. Offer self-service payment plans with clear parameters
Payment plans are another vital tool for helping patients pay their bill in full. Self-service payment plans give patients the flexibility and privacy to set up a payment plan online that works for them without the need to discuss how they will pay their balance with their provider’s staff. Healthcare organizations can set parameters such as minimum monthly payments and maximum payment-plan terms to ensure that these arrangements meet their financial needs as well. 

Both Acosta and Cho said payment plans are a useful way to collect from patients who tend to accrue a balance over time. Cho said his team keeps track of cash flow by regularly pulling reports that indicate how many patients are on payment plans and which ones may be behind on their payments.

Some self-service intake tools can also identify and flag patients who may be eligible for financial assistance, which can help minimize cost concerns and ensure that lower-income patients get the care they need.

Ultimately, healthcare organizations whose patients amass large balances should consider how they can help eliminate barriers that hinder patients from paying their bill. When an organization’s payment process is convenient, flexible and easy to understand, its patients are more likely to efficiently and consistently pay their balances due.

Learn how Phreesia can help your organization minimize patient balances and accelerate your revenue cycle.