Few Providers Are Covering All Bases In Patient Collection Efforts

Posted on July 27, 2017 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.

If the following is any indication, providers have a pretty good idea of what they need to do if they want to collect more from patients. The thing is, many providers aren’t doing it, or least not doing enough. I find this a bit surprising, given that while putting all of them into place may be intimidating, there’s many smaller things they can do to make progress. For whatever reason, though, even the smaller things aren’t happening.

That at least, is the conclusion that leapt out at me when I looked at data from a recent survey on the subject of patient collections. I could be missing something, but it looks as though providers are blowing many opportunities to collect a higher percentage of what patients owe.

The study, which was sponsored by Navicure and conducted by HIMSS Analytics, draws on data from two groups, patients and providers, including 1,000 patients and 553 healthcare industry respondents with revenue cycle management or RCM technology knowledge.

In formulating the survey, researchers sought to compare patient attitudes about provider billing with the providers’ actual behavior.  If the results are any indication, patients are considerably more cutting-edge than providers when it comes to getting the bills paid.

One thing I took away from the survey results was that while patients seem fairly willing to adopt provider-friendly billing options, many providers aren’t accommodating them.

For example, while 52% of patients told researchers that they’d prefer electronic billing over paper statements, and 79% of patients say they are comfortable being billed via email, 89% of providers said they still send out statements via postal mail. I know rethinking billing procedures is hard and all, but making this change seems like it’s worth the effort.

Another striking example of where providers could step up is the use of “credit card on file” programs. Medical practices who seem to be getting a lot of results from CCOF programs, under which patients allow the practice to bill the card for smaller charges.

Despite patient acceptance levels, only a minority of providers said they had gotten on board with CCOF as of yet. In fact, though 78% of patients said they were comfortable with CCOF payments, only 20% of providers said that they such a program in place. That’s another big gap between patient attitudes and provider willingness to follow through.

Then there’s patient concerns about preparing for bills. Admittedly, providers are ahead of patients on this one. Seventy-five percent reported being able to provide a cost estimate, but only 25% of patients said they had requested an estimate on the last visit.

Still, consumers  are catching up with providers quickly, with 56% reporting that they expect to ask for cost of care estimates in the future. Even better, the estimates don’t have to be perfect. In fact, more than two thirds of patients said they would find either any estimate or an estimate that came in within 10% or less of their actual costs to be helpful.

Yes, getting all of these strategies into place together is clearly easier said than done. But given what’s at stake for providers, anything short of impossible is worth a try.