A Guide to Collecting Patient Payments in 2021As the U.S. approaches the one-year anniversary of its first shelter-in-place orders, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt daily life in various ways, with a seemingly infinite number of changes occurring in the healthcare industry. In addition to the added strain that the virus has placed on ICU and emergency room capacities, COVID-19 has also impacted sectors like telehealth, equitable access to healthcare, and vaccine research—for better or for worse.

The patient payments collections industry is no exception. Billing departments have made drastic changes to their operations to respond adequately to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Many patients, especially those who are elderly or at-risk, are unable or unwilling to physically attend doctors’ visits. While telehealth appointments offer a safer alternative to in-person visits, there is still no in-person transaction at the end of the visit to guide the patient through the payment process.

Additionally, millions of people have experienced changes to their insurance policies. Some may now be insured through Medicaid, while many more have undergone layoffs and job changes resulting in new coverage. Patients are faced with navigating new reimbursement procedures, networks, and COVID-relief programs, while offices are having more difficulty collecting accurate and timely payments.

The medical billing industry has a lot of challenges to navigate in 2021. What strategies can billers use to overcome these challenges and maximize their revenue collection?

How to Collect Patient Payments in 2021

According to the American Hospital Association, health systems are currently experiencing 19.5% fewer inpatient visits and 34.5% fewer outpatient visits than in 2019. Although collecting patient revenue at pre-pandemic levels might be unattainable for now, healthcare organizations can still take steps to improve their payment collection rates in 2021.

1.    Implement Patient Payment Plans

We’ve published articles about the benefits of offering payment plans for those impacted by COVID-19 before—this tip is as relevant as ever. Many individuals are struggling to make bill payments, and the few appointments that they are willing or able to schedule might now be even more expensive for them due to changes in coverage. Instead of paying co-pay or deductible in person, all telehealth visits will need to be billed via email, mail, or phone. When the bill finally comes, patients might be shocked and stressed to realize they incorrectly budgeted for their appointment or were unable to set money aside in advance.

Payment Plan

Offering payment plans will give patients peace of mind about gradually paying off their out-of-pocket amount and will result in more consistent collections over time. Offering payment plans as an easy way to fund a doctor’s visit could also encourage an increase in elective services.

Check out our eBook for more information about payment plans!

2.    Understand the Law

Thoroughly understanding your obligations as a healthcare provider, as well as the obligations of insurance providers, under COVID-19-related legislation will result in a smoother payment process for your billing department and your patients.

For example, the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund states that patients who seek medical attention from out-of-network providers will not pay more than if they had received that care from an in-network provider—and there are funds available to practitioners to help cover the difference in cost. Additionally, many insurance providers are waiving certain co-payments associated with COVID-19 treatment. Keeping up with these modifications to coverage will help you better serve your patients.

This is also an opportunity to build trust. Patients will likely reach out to your practice for questions regarding their bill and coverage. If your billing staff can quickly respond to these inquiries and spot incorrect out-of-pocket payments when they arise, your patients will thank you for your expertise and honesty!

3.    Follow Up

Have you found yourself feeling more forgetful in the last few months, either professionally or in your personal life, even if you haven’t had a COVID-19 infection? You’re not alone. According to several studies, this prolonged period of stress and social distancing is having a negative impact on our brains and our ability to remember.

“Follow up” might seem like a silly or unnecessary tip, but think about how many of your patients are potentially not paying their bill because they’ve simply forgotten. With the stresses of at-home child or parent care, working from home or job losses, fear of infection, ill or at-risk loved ones, and the constant barrage of alarming news about global pandemic trends, your patients have a lot on their mind. Consider developing a phone call plan in which your billing department reaches out to those with overdue bills.

During these calls, your staff should be prepared to walk patients through payment options and collect payments over the phone. When these calls are framed as courtesy calls instead of collections calls, your patients will be thankful that you helped them avoid late fees and understand their options.

4.    Offer Contactless Patient Payments

QR Code Bill ScanContactless patient payments bring various benefits. In terms of public health, the risk of contact transmission of COVID-19 is greatly reduced. In terms of payment collection, the opportunities to collect a patient payment are greatly increased.

For example, if your medical practice uses an online health portal, consider how you can use that portal to encourage your patients to view and pay their balances. This could be done even before they come in for their appointment as part of a check-in or registration process. Even without an online health portal, your practice can still take steps like incorporating QR codes into paperwork to direct patients to an online payment page or by offering a pay-by-phone option as part of a follow-up call.

If your healthcare organization has yet to transition to a low-contact or contactless payment system, now is the time to make the switch.

5.    Plan for the Future

Levels of patient visits will remain lower than pre-pandemic for as long as COVID-19 continues to force business closures. While this will have some negative impacts on medical practices, this period will also give you the chance to review your revenue cycle for improvement opportunities. Now is the time to plan for 2022 and what your revenue cycle will look like post-pandemic.

Have you been meaning to update your practice’s billing software or reorganize the structure of your billing department? Is there data that you’d like to collect about customer satisfaction, but you haven’t had the time to put together a survey distribution and analysis plan? Right now is likely the least busy that your billing department will be. Considering the rush of appointments that will likely come immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic is contained, now is the time to get as organized and efficient as possible.

Final Thoughts

MailMyStatements is a technology-driven patient statement and payment vendor that offers managed billing needs varying from payment plan capabilities to statement design. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our various solutions to help increase patient collections.

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Hugh Sullivan is the CEO of MailMyStatements, an industry-leading healthcare billing, and payments company. He has over 25 years of experience as a seasoned healthcare executive, was the co-founder of ENS Health — a highly successful national healthcare electronic data interchange company, and has served in various leadership roles within Optum, a UnitedHealth Group company. Considered as an industry thought leader, Hugh is an expert in using health IT to improve healthcare information exchange, which can enhance the quality of care, improve efficiency, and reduce costs.

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You can follow Hugh on Twitter @hughdsullivan

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