Why your practice needs a solid patient payment policy

You’ve probably seen more than your fair share of patients who visit your practice to get quality medical care and leave without paying. But as we well know, getting patients to pay at the time of service is often the difference between getting paid or not. And while late or non-payment impacts your cash flow in the short term, over time bad debt and the rising cost of doing business can put even the busiest practice at unnecessary risk.

When it comes to payments, there are a number of reasons patients might fail to pay their bill. And while it’s important to understand what those reasons might be on a case-by-case basis, having a clear patient payment policy in place is vital to maintaining a healthy doctor-patient relationship, as well as safeguarding your practice from financial loss.  

Why a patient payment policy is important

A considered patient payment policy clearly explains what is expected from the patient in return for the quality medical services they receive. In essence, your practice’s patient payment policy serves as a way to communicate their financial obligation, and allows you to avoid incidents of non-payment because ‘they didn’t know.’

Once you have written your payment policy and checked it against the list of essential information to include below, you can ask your patients to read and sign it before it’s stored as part of their records within the practice. This sets the precedent upfront and gives you a point of reference to go back to should patients be unwilling to pay.

What to include in your patient payment policy

1. When payment is due

Your patient payment policy should clearly state in plain language when payment is expected from them. Typically this is at the time of service, but some practices offer anything from 7 to 30 days to settle invoices.

2. Who is responsible for payment

Your policy should state that cash patients are responsible for their own account and any dependents under them. Patients with medical aid should be made aware that they are responsible for amounts not covered by their medical aid or when funds are depleted.

3. Patient co-payment

It is best to stipulate that collecting patient co-payments will happen at the time of service. But it’s very often the case that patients are unaware of or misinformed about what their medical aid will and won’t cover and by how much. They may not be trying to avoid payment entirely but they are simply confused by their cover. By spelling out that co-payments may be due in your policy, you can both help to educate your patient and avoid an uncomfortable situation approaching them about their financial responsibility.

In addition to including the possibility of co-payments in your payment policy, you can further ensure that patient co-pays aren’t missed by using medical billing software, such as Healthbridge’s myMPS solution. This enables you or your staff to receive automated benefit checks and do real-time claiming so that you (and your patients) know what funds are available and what they will be liable for.  

5. Whether your practice charges for missed appointments

Remember to note how much notice is required to cancel an appointment and what the patient is liable for i.e. the full consultation rate or a portion thereof.

6. What payment methods your practice accepts

Or doesn’t. Cash, card, mobile app, electronic funds transfer, Snapscan, cheques and digital currencies may all form part of your payment method bundle which needs to be included in your patient payment policy. For more information about the pros and cons of payment methods click here.

7. Whether you offer discounts for prompt payment

Numerous practices incentivise their patients to pay on time by offering percentage discounts for services paid in full at the time of service. If this is something that you offer at your practice, be sure to include this information in your patient payment policy.  

8. How your practice handles non-payment

It’s important that your patients understand your practice policy when they have not paid their bill. Some practices hand accounts over to an outsourced collections agency after three months, others have different policies. Whatever your practice policy is, patients need to be informed of what they can expect if they refuse to pay.  

9. What steps to follow should they need to make a payment arrangement

While most patients will pay on time, sometimes financial setbacks happen. People lose their jobs, get divorced, or suffer another catastrophe that leaves them genuinely unable to pay their bill. Guiding them about how to make a payment arrangement will also help you know who genuinely needs your help and who is simply unwilling to pay.

Again, once you have finalised your patient payment policy it is essential that patients receive a copy that they sign and date, and that a copy is stored at the practice.

Reap the benefits of technology on your revenue

Having the right technology in place can ensure a smooth collections process. Medical billing software that is designed to facilitate the sharing of relevant information from medical schemes in real-time and automate many of the manual processes associated with billing and reconciliations can save valuable time and drastically increase your practice’s likelihood of getting paid.

Click here to contact Healthbridge for more information about how you can smooth the collections process at your practice.

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