Many of the patients who visit your office are apprehensive, tired, sick, in pain and frightened. Even if what is wrong isn’t serious, it can feel serious and there are always all the friends who know somebody who had the same problems and died a slow, cruel death. They will not remember much of what you are telling them. They may not even remember your name.
The situation is far worse when you see a patient in a Hospital. Nobody wants to be there hooked up to tubes and scheduled for a variety of unpleasant and, sometimes, life threatening, experiences. There is usually too much noise, discomfort and enough drugs to make sure nobody is completely clear on anything. You do some work for this patient, stop by to introduce yourself and the next day the patient isn’t even sure who stopped by to say hello and cannot remember who were doctors and who were orderlies.
Bills are submitted to the Insurer, problem corrected and, many months later there is a bill that has a co-pay or co-insurance or isn’t fully covered for another reason. The Patient gets your bill and asks ‘Who is this Doctor?’
To help reduce this problem, make every effort to say hello to the patient before you do anything. If this is not possible, say hello when the patient is alert and clear headed. Explain what your role was. It never hurts to stop by and inquire as to how the patient is doing.
Even in your office, some patients may be confused as to who you are and many more will confuse you with other doctors by the time a few weeks pass. You can reduce this problem by having somebody on your staff call those patients who might need some assistance to let them know what is happening.
Since patients don’t type out your applications, there is inevitably some error in interpreting poor handwriting. Sometimes this is intentional but, usually, it is only bad penmanship. Some patients use rental cell phones and the numbers change often. Some patients are staying with a friend or relative and are likely to move in the near future.
They are not thinking about this while they wait for you. When they move 2 months later and don’t get a bill the think the Insurer paid the bill. Meanwhile, your bills are going to some place they aren’t living. Some people return such mail but many others just throw it away. You may not even know the bill is going to the wrong address.
You can solve this problem by including ‘Emergency Contact Phone Numbers’ on your application. This should include work, home, cell, near relative or friend. The list should be as many phones as you if necessary; these numbers should help you find the patient. Many other patients can be found on Facebook or other social media.
Knowing who you are is important, but you need to make sure your patients know the specific services you provided. Patients are reluctant to pay for nothing and that is often what they think they received if they don’t know what you did.
This is not what the patient heard from the insurer, just how it was interpreted. ‘WRONG CODE’ problems are easily remedied so make sure your patients know they should contact you when they first encounter a problem with Insurance payments. Copays or Coinsurance are not your problem, but some patients remember somebody saying you would take what Insurance pays and includes copays in that statement. Make sure your staff specifically excludes copays.
The solution is to make sure your patients understand insurance rules from the very start. You may think something is covered but you do not know the Carrier’s policies. Your staff should suggest they check if they have any questions.
Some patients are living on Social Security and frankly don’t have the money to pay your bill. No matter what you do they won’t have the money. You might want to make sure your Staff has information on Medicaid available and, if this isn’t going to work, nothing else will work either. Sometimes you just have to write something off.
These steps are quick, simple and can, in many cases, be done by your Staff. You will never be able to collect all bills, but these suggestions should dramatically reduce your bad debt. It’s almost like free money.