facebook Best Practices for Collecting Patient Past-Due Balances

Best Practices for Collecting Patient Past-Due Balances

Collect more past-due bills from patients with these tips
Read Time: 2.5 minutes
Aug 31, 2021

Unpaid balances are an unfortunate part of the medical industry. Every practice, hospital, and clinic will have patients who haven’t paid their medical bills. Whether the patients haven’t paid their bills because they can’t or because they don’t want to, collecting past-due balances isn’t typically a pleasant process.

Fortunately, there are some best practices you can follow that will help to make the past-due balance collection process a bit easier for both you and your patients.

Train Your Front-Desk Staff

Medical receptionist speaking to patient

Your front-desk staff are the first and last people that your patients have contact with when they come to your practice. When a patient first checks in, your front-desk staff is already pulling up the patient’s information to confirm details and insurance information. This is also a good opportunity for your front-desk staff to look up any past-due balances the patient may have.

If a patient does have a past-due balance, your front-desk staff should ask them how they would like to pay the bill. Asking whether or not they want to pay will most likely result in the patient saying that they don’t want to pay.

Assign One Person to Bill Collection Duty

Asking for payment when a patient checks in at the front desk isn’t always enough to collect on past-due balances. Sometimes, you need to call patients to collect. Assigning this task to one member of your front-desk staff who has both good phone etiquette and the ability to be firm with patients can help to improve your success rate.

Look for Alternative Payment Options

Many patients don’t have past-due balances because they just don’t feel like paying. Sometimes, they can’t afford to pay. For example, if a family has credits attached to one member, those credits could be transferred to another family member to cover the costs. Any alternative payment options that could help a patient pay when they otherwise couldn’t will benefit both the practice and the patient.

Considering offering these additional payment options to your patients with overdue bills:

  • Payment Plans: Offer patients the option to pay off their balances over time through structured payment plans. These plans can be tailored to the patient’s financial situation, allowing them to make monthly payments until the balance is paid in full.
  • Discounts for Prompt Payment: Offer discounts to patients who pay their overdue bills in full or make a significant payment upfront. This can incentivize patients to settle their balances more quickly and reduce the financial burden on both parties.
  • Flexible Payment Options: Provide flexibility in payment methods, such as accepting credit cards, debit cards, electronic bank transfers, or online payment platforms. Giving patients multiple options to pay can make it easier for them to manage their bills according to their preferred payment methods.
  • Financial Assistance Programs: Inform patients about financial assistance programs or charity care options that your medical practice may offer. These programs can provide financial relief or discounted services to patients who demonstrate financial need.
  • Healthcare Financing Programs: Partner with healthcare financing companies that offer medical loans or credit lines specifically designed to cover healthcare expenses. Patients can apply for these financing options to pay off their overdue bills and then repay the loan over time with manageable monthly payments.
  • Negotiation of Settlements: Consider negotiating settlements with patients who are unable to pay their full balances. This could involve reducing the total amount owed or establishing a compromise payment arrangement that both parties agree upon.
  • Medicaid or Other Government Programs: Assist patients in applying for Medicaid or other government assistance programs if they qualify. These programs can help cover healthcare costs for low-income individuals and families, potentially reducing or eliminating the patient’s financial responsibility for their overdue bills.
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) or Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs): Encourage patients to utilize their HSAs or FSAs to pay for their medical expenses, including overdue bills. These accounts allow patients to use pre-tax dollars to cover qualified healthcare expenses, providing them with a tax-efficient way to manage their medical bills.

Send the Bill to Collections When Necessary

Final notice medical bill

There are some patients who just won’t pay no matter what you do. In a case like this, it actually may be better to give up rather than to continue chasing a delinquent patient account. Every phone call, letter, and other attempt to collect the past-due bill will actually cost your practice money and uses up your staff’s time. It’s a good idea to decide ahead of time exactly how many letters and phone calls you will make to a patient before you give up.

You shouldn’t give up too soon because if the bill goes to collections, you won’t see very much of the money. But eventually, the costs of continuing to pursue a patient outweigh the potential gains.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismiss a Patient

No one likes losing customers, which is what patients are for a medical practice. But if a patient is delinquent with their payments and no amount of chasing them gets them to pay, you should know when it’s time to let them go. A patient that isn’t paying isn’t bringing your practice money anyway, so dismissing them opens up appointments for new, paying patients.

  • Communication Attempts: Evaluate the history of communication attempts with the patient regarding their unpaid bills. Have you made multiple attempts to contact them through various channels (phone calls, emails, letters) to discuss their outstanding balance and payment options? Document all communication efforts and responses received from the patient.
  • Financial Hardship Assessment: Assess the patient’s financial situation and ability to pay. Have they provided any documentation or information indicating financial hardship? Consider whether the patient has experienced unexpected financial challenges, such as job loss or medical emergencies, that may have impacted their ability to settle their bills.
  • Payment History: Review the patient’s payment history to determine if there have been previous instances of delinquent payments or payment disputes. Consider whether the patient has a pattern of non-payment or if their current situation is an isolated incident.
  • Policy Compliance: Ensure that your dismissal decision aligns with your medical practice’s policies and procedures regarding patient billing and collections. Consider consulting legal counsel to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations governing patient dismissal and debt collection practices.
  • Ethical Considerations: Consider the ethical implications of dismissing a patient, particularly if they have ongoing healthcare needs or if their dismissal could negatively impact their access to necessary medical care. Balance the financial considerations with the ethical responsibility to provide care to patients in need.
  • Impact on Practice Finances: Evaluate the financial impact of pursuing further collection efforts versus the likelihood of recovering the unpaid balance. Consider the cost of additional collection efforts, such as hiring a debt collection agency or pursuing legal action, compared to the amount owed by the patient.
  • Documentation and Records: Maintain thorough documentation of all interactions with the patient regarding their unpaid bills, including communication attempts, payment agreements, and any relevant financial information provided by the patient. This documentation can support your decision-making process and protect your practice in the event of disputes or legal challenges.

Make the Consequences Clear to Patients

When you have patients that haven’t paid, you’ll need to let them know the consequences of continuing to not pay their bills. In communications to patients that have an outstanding balance, you should let them know how many warnings they get before the bill is turned over to collections. The patient should also be made aware that they will be dismissed from your practice if they don’t pay. It’s also important to stick to the consequences that you have outlined to the patient. Threatening collections and dismissal won’t have any impact if you don’t actually follow through.

Need help with collecting past-due balances?

Contact us to learn more about our medical billing solutions.

Contact us

For informational purposes only.