Providers Often Choose Low-Tech Collection Solutions

Posted on October 6, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As most providers know, it’s harder to collect money from the patient once they’ve walked out the door. This has always been an issue, but is particularly important today given that patients are being asked to bear an increasingly larger percentage of their healthcare bill.

In some cases, providers solve this problem by having their staff reach out directly via phone, rather than relying entirely on paper billing. Others address these issues with technology solutions such as offering payment options via a web portal. And of course, some providers do both.

But the question remains, which combination is most likely to boost collections efficiently without losing patients in the process? And it’s this question, which underlies all those other considerations, which a new study hopes to address. When reading the results, it’s good to bear in mind that the sponsor, BillingTree, is a payment technology firm and therefore has a bias, but the survey data was interesting nonetheless.

First, a look at providers’ collections challenges. Respondents told BillingTree that compliance and collecting payments once the patient has left the building were concerns, along with knowing the correct amount to bill after insurance and addressing the client’s ability to pay. Perhaps the biggest issues were a lack of payment channels – be they staffers, interactive voice response or website tech — and disputes over the amount billed.

According to BillingTree researchers, few respondents were using Web or automated phone payment collection technologies to bring in these missing dollars. While 93.9% accepted online and mail payments, and 86.7% said they accepted payments over the phone via a live agent, only 66.7% provided a web portal payment option, and just 6.7% offered the ability to pay via an interactive voice response system. Rather than add new technologies, respondents largely said that they intended to improve collections by adding staff members or outsourcing part of their collection operations.

On the other hand, technology plays a somewhat bigger part in providers’ future plans for collections. Over the next 12 months, 20% said they planned to begin accepting payments via a web portal, and 13.3% intend to add an IVR system to accept payments. Meanwhile, the 26.7% of providers who are planning to outsource some or all of their collections are likely to benefit indirectly from these technologies, which are common among payment outsourcers, BillingTree noted.

Among those providers that did offer phone or web-based payment options, one-fifth chose to add a convenience fee to the transaction. BillingTree researchers noted that given the low adoption of such technologies, and concerns about regulatory compliance, such fees might be unwise. Nonetheless, the data suggest that collection of such fees increase over time.

All this being said, the BillingTree study doesn’t look at perhaps the most critical technology issue providers are struggling to address. As a recent American Medical Association survey recently concluded, providers are quite interested in tools that link to their EMR and help them improve their billing and reimbursement processes.

Focusing on revenue cycle management issues at the front end of the process makes sense. After all, while patients are being forced to take on larger shares of their medical costs, insurers are still more reliable sources of income. So while it makes sense for providers to track down patients who leave without having paid their share of costs, focusing the bulk of their technology dollars on improving the claims process seems like a good idea.