The DFW Hospital Council posts guest blogs by our Associate Members. The following was provided by Healthcare Solutions by SWC.
By Amanda Ward
Healthcare organizations these days all seem to be focused on creating the most extraordinary patient experience. It has become a competitive differentiator of sorts with new hospital construction touting the likes of high-tech concierge check-ins, upscale dining facilities with cooked-to-order food, soaring atriums with cascading waterfalls and access to nature, aromatherapy with the smell of clean linens pumped through HVAC systems, and more.
Many organizations have learned the hard way that they can do everything right from admission to discharge and deliver the most magical experience, only to break the spell in the end when asking for payment. Today, with first-party and bad debt collection agencies popping up overnight, healthcare systems are in need of proven approaches from agencies to maintain the positive patient experience.
Being polite and courteous to improve the patient experience is not a new concept; most agencies have changed their commanding-approach because of the TCPA and FDCPA requirements. In addition, having the appropriate number of agents – trained and readily available – is an important supporting element in the extension of a positive collection experience as well as improved recovery rates. But since these considerations are now standard, they alone no longer distinguish one agency from the next. What else can a first-party or bad debt agency do to keep patients satisfied, yet still be effective?
The answer stems from my favorite quote by Maya Angelou. It goes, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
A big part of how a person responds to an interaction is rooted in social science. Telling patients they owe money is challenging in itself, but something that can be done well with a thoughtful approach.
Listed below are tips on how to effectively collect medical payments without offending or alienating patients.
Start with a satisfaction survey.
Administer patient satisfaction surveys by phone to give the guarantor an opportunity to share any concerns. “Asking,” in and of itself, can improve customer satisfaction. Be sure to use the survey responses to identify and correct any issues. Reach out to particularly vocal patients and tell them what you’ve done to rectify the situation. Now that any potential road blocks to collection have been removed, send the first statement.
Put the patient first and LISTEN.
This is the most important rule. Patients always have a story to tell and they need to tell it, so listen to them. Especially if the patient is angry or irate, let him blow off steam. Only after the patient has finished talking (or ranting) is he likely to be open to anything you are suggesting. Speak too soon and the patient may become even angrier because of the interruption.
Take your time.
Slow down, build a rapport, but keep it professional. Speak in a calm, even, well-paced voice. You will carry more authority, your phone messages will be clear and well understood, and you will perform more effectively.
Calling patients to let them know they have an outstanding balance due is a delicate task. They may already be embarrassed by the call, so be sensitive to their feelings. They did not intentionally “rack up” medical debt.
Stay on task.
Go ahead and let patients share their personal experiences, but wait for a pause and bring them back to the task at hand. While it is fine for the patients to share their personal experience, it is not appropriate for you to share your own. Patients will not be entertained, but rather, offended by you wasting their time. Stay professionally engaged and do not get distracted.
Stay within the bounds of collection laws; do not act outside of the guidelines set by your organization. Say the wrong thing and you or your organization will pay the price. If patients are miffed that they are receiving a balance due after insurance, let them know that their insurance company contract requires that they are to be notified. Treat all patient accounts the same and offer a charity care program when applicable.
This will put patients (guarantors) at ease and they are likely to match your mood when you are pleasant. It really depends on attitude. Stay positive, show your fun side, and always remember to SMILE!
A positive patient experience is one of the most important drivers of the success of a healthcare organization. Creating an extraordinary collection experience is inherently difficult because few people actually enjoy asking people to pay their bills. Those who do, and do it well, they are a rare breed and are to be celebrated.
Amanda Ward is the President of Dallas-based BPO, Healthcare Solutions by SWC.