COVID-19 & the resultant lockdown has had an adverse impact on South African employment. In fact, South Africa’s official unemployment rate for the second quarter of 2021 worsened to a record of 34.4%, & economists expect this to worsen if the impact of the unrest in July is taken into account.
Patients cannot plan when they get sick & as a result, their bank accounts are usually also unprepared. If the unemployment rate remains at this all-time low, the numbers suggest that patient balances will be increasingly difficult to collect. Therefore, practices that fail to be proactive about collecting from patients will predictably experience a tsunami of accounts receivable.
Here are 5 ways to improve patient collections to protect your cash flow & your business:
1. Fully pre-register patients at the time of making an appointment
Waiting until a patient is in the practice to verify their medical aid information is too late. The key to collecting for services on time & in full starts with capturing &/or ensuring that you have complete & accurate patient & medical aid information when the patient makes the appointment.
A simple & straightforward way to fully pre-register patients before their appointment is to perform a Family Check using your practice management software. Family Checks validate medical aid membership for all dependents. Because current details are automatically imported, you are reassured that you are working with the most accurate information should you need to discuss co- or non-payment from the medical aid with the patient.
2. Inform patients of potential shortfalls prior to the appointment
We touched on it above, but it’s important to bear in mind that patients are usually (unpleasantly) surprised to discover that their medical aid will not cover the full consultation. You can help them avoid any unexpected expenses on the day by notifying them of any potential shortfalls that may incur. Patients who are fully informed telephonically prior to their appointment are more likely to pay at the time of service.
You can get an estimate of patient liabilities by performing a Benefit Check using your practice management software. Patient benefit checks will let you know how much funds a patient has & again, allow your staff to communicate the information with them should there be a shortfall. Sophisticated practice management systems will automatically perform a benefit check (automated benefit checks) when you schedule the appointment & then again, a couple of hours prior to the patient’s scheduled appointment.
3. Collect patient balances before they leave your rooms
We have mentioned that patients are more likely to pay at time of appointment, particularly if they’ve been communicated with beforehand, but also if they receive an invoice at the time of service. Don’t wait for the patient to leave the practice to email them retrospectively. Use your practice management system to send claims to medical aids in real-time. You will typically receive a response within seconds as to what will & won’t be covered. You can then generate an invoice for the balance then & there to give to the patient & collect what’s owed.
4. Offer payment options
Nobody plans to be sick & given the economic climate, there will be patients who will genuinely struggle to pay their bills. You don’t want to make life harder for them, but you do want to ensure that you eventually get paid for your services. One way to strike a balance between the two is to consider offering payment options. Click here for more information on the kind of payment options you can offer.
Secondly, although patients usually mean well, they can sometimes forget about invoices particularly if they’re not part of a typical monthly spend or budget. Sometimes all it takes is a reminder & you can do so quickly & easily by sending them an SMS payment reminder from your practice management system as often as necessary.
5. Provide modern billing & payment technologies
As much as patients want a convenient way to make an appointment with your practice, they also want convenient ways to make payment. Make it easy for patients to pay their bills. Traditional card & EFT payments are fast becoming second to cardless digital payment channels because while people can easily forget their wallets, they rarely forget their phones.
Look for practice management software that has negotiated favourable rates with digital payment companies such as SnapScan.
Implementing these 5 strategies can go a long way in ensuring that your communication with patients stays open & you can collect what’s owed to you faster & more efficiently. For more information about how to strengthen your patient collections journey with practice management software, click here.