7 Tips to Get Patients to Pay Their Bill

Patient billing can be a nightmare for some providers' offices or medical billing services.  It's a pain in the butt to get the statements all prepared, stuff the envelopes, put on the postage, etc. only to find that many patients just ignore them.  But there are things that you can do to increase the number of patients who pay their bills so that you don't have as many to send out each month. 

The following tips will help to keep your patients' receivables under control:
Send statements out regularly.  When patients receive regular statements, they know that the providers' office is diligent in collecting amounts due and they are more likely to pay.  If they receive statements sporadically, they are less likely to take them seriously.

Check the statements over before mailing them.  Make sure the statements are accurate.  If the patient doesn't think that the statement is correct, they most likely won't pay.

Put appropriate notes on the statements.  For example, if you've already billed the patient for these services but didn't get a response, put a 2nd notice or a friendly reminder on the statements.  Something such as, "Friendly Reminder!  We've previously billed you for these charges with no response." Or "Second Notice.  We have not heard from you regarding your past due account."  Just something to let them know that you are paying attention.
Make sure statements are clear and easy to read.  A confusing statement leaves a confused patient.  A confused patient is less likely to pay their bill.  The amount due should be clearly visible.

Indicate the reason the patient is being billed.  If the bill clearly indicates what it's for and why the patient owes it, the patient is more likely to pay it.  For example, if the patient has a deductible and the services were applied to that deductible, the bill should show that.  Then the patient will know that their insurance processed the claim applying the charges to their deductible and that they owe the provider.  Whatever the patient is being billed for should be shown clearly on the bill.

Include a return envelope.  Patients are more likely to write out a check and stick it in the return envelope than they are to get an envelope, address it, stamp it, and mail it.  You don't have to put postage on it, just include the envelope so that they don't have to get an envelope and address it.  If you have a very small office or a small amount of patient statements, you don't have to pay for expensive return envelopes.  You could just get inexpensive white envelopes and stick an Avery label on it with the office address. 

Collect patient responsibilities at the time of service whenever possible.  If the patient has a set co-pay or patient responsibility, it should be collected at the time of their visit.  This prevents a statement from having to be sent.  Patients are more willing to pay for services before they are seen by the provider.  And patients with co-pays know that they are due at the time of service.  This starts at the front desk.  Put a system in place at the front desk to collect patient responsibilities.

Each year, many providers have to write off hundreds of dollars in bad debt (sometimes thousands).  In many cases, it is just because the providers don't have good billing practices in place.  Many times, they don't take time to analyze why the problem is occurring.  Whenever an office has to write off a balance or balances, they should stop to consider why it is happening.  There will always be some accounts that will need to be written off.  That is unavoidable.  But these cases should be limited to those few extreme or unusual situations.

Oftentimes, the decision to write off a balance is left in the hands of an employee.  The provider should at least have guidelines for them to follow to determine when a write off is required.  The provider should be aware of the amount being written off each month or quarter so that they can determine if it is a reasonable amount. 

In addition to having a system for the patient billing, the provider should have a system for when a patient is sent to collections.  The sooner a collection agency receives an account, the more likely they are to collect and the less they are likely to charge.  If a system is set up, the accounts will more likely be forwarded to the collection agency in a timely manner.  For example, if you have a 3-bill system where if there is no response from the patient after 3 attempts, the account immediately goes to collections, then the account should never be over 90-120 days old. 

Patient billing doesn't have to be such a hassle.  Setting up an effective system for patient billing can improve the response, and keep patient receivables under control.  It will also reduce the amount of write offs or uncollectible debts.  Follow the 7 tips above and get your patient billing under control today.

Mother and daughter, Alice Scott and Michele Redmond are coauthors of 15 books on medical billing and co-owners of Solutions Medical Billing Inc. in Rome NY which they founded in 1994.  They offer a free monthly newsletter and a medical billing forum.  www.solutions-medical-billing.com www.medicalbillinglive.com