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Your medical practice has friendly physicians and attentive staff.  Your team approaches collections aggressively. But you still have billing problems that delay patient payments.

Billing is a top priority in any medical group practice, but it's intensified by the current economy. Many medical practices are seeing fewer patients. Most are seeing more patients who have trouble paying or who have lost their health insurance. All these factors contribute to reduced collections.

Here are 12 ways to attack those billing and collections problems. This advice comes from the Patient Friendly Billing Project, created by the MGMA with the Healthcare Financial Management Association and the American Hospital Association.

  1. Update patient packets.
    Make sure you describe credit and collection policies clearly. Include a sample patient billing statement.
  2. Review the registration process.
    Obtain necessary information from patients as they check in or schedule appointments. Reduce redundant forms.
  3. Inform patients.
    Before a significant episode of care, such as surgery or hospitalization, remind patients of their financial obligations and explain the insurance billing process.
  4. Meet with representatives of major payers periodically.
    Discuss payment and administrative problems, and seek solutions.
  5. Involve physicians and staff.
    Create a flow chart describing the revenue cycle – from collecting a copayment at the time of service to billing for deductible or co-insurance amounts. This can help physicians and staff understand their roles in the patient flow process.
  6. Give patients clear billing statements.
    Make sure summaries of services are easy to understand. Avoid abbreviations and medical jargon. List phone numbers and contact hours.
  7. Include return envelopes only when needed.
    Sending return envelopes with statements that only explain a service just confuses patients.
  8. Study community needs.
    Ask patients, family members and other caregivers to suggest ways to make your billing statements and the billing process clearer. Some patients may need statements in their native languages.
  9. Consider longer billing-office hours.
    Inviting patients to call with billing questions during evenings can improve collections and patient satisfaction.
  10. Hire, train and motivate service-oriented staff.
    Make sure employees understand the purposes of your practice's form and how to communicate effectively with patients.
  11. Understand legal and payer requirements.
    State and federal laws regulate how businesses may bill, offer credit and contact patients for collections.
  12. Understand the new rules.
    Work with payers and vendors to ensure your billing systems and procedures comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.

Need more ideas? This topic is so important that we've created a billing and collections Web page to help you succeed.

Have billing tricks of your own? Share them in the comments.

First published by Robert Redling, MS, in MGMA e-Connexion.

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