Prompt revenue collection is a key strategy to keeping your behavioral health practice financially viable. Good billing practices for insurance are obviously crucial, but we sometimes neglect to put the same emphasis on collecting from clients. Patient payment has a major impact on real-time cash flow, and can be hard to collect “after the fact.” The process of collecting payment from patients at the time of service can increase the amount of money you bring in from clients.
It’s estimated that when practices wait to bill patients after the day of service, they will only collect about 50-70 percent of the money they’re owed—and that is for insured patients. For uninsured patients, the rate can be astoundingly low, around 10 percent.
Clearly, patient payment solutions that allow you to collect upfront are best for your practice’s financial health. But this model also poses some unique challenges to mental health providers. For one thing, balancing a therapeutic focus with finances can be tricky. Patients may be emotionally distressed at the time of their visit, making payment discussions awkward, even damaging to patient/provider rapport. These conversations also take away from the limited time a provider has with their patient at every session. Some patients may resist having to pay immediately, making it stressful for providers or staff to enforce the policy.
However, with a few best practices for upfront payments, your behavioral health clinic should be able to work through the hiccups and get your due on the day of service. A good EHR system can make the process faster and easier.
Best Practices for Effective Payment Collection in Behavioral Health
The process of collecting payment from patients at the time of service requires clear communication and the right technological support. Here are key strategies to support this payment model.
Open and Compassionate Communication
Your first step should be to clearly spell out your payment policy. Write it out in concrete terms: when will you accept payment? What payment methods will you accept? What are the consequences for late payments?
Then, communicate this policy to every patient.
You’ll want to include the policy prominently in new patient intake paperwork. It can be helpful to require that new patients sign a payment policy agreement, in order to head off disputes later.
Existing patients must be made aware of the policy change well in advance. Send the information via email or patient portal message, and post it at your physical location. Be sure to include the date when it will take effect.
Finally, train your staff in how to explain the policy and gracefully handle payment conversations. Give them the tools they need to keep these interactions respectful, kind, and firm.
Provide Clear and Comprehensive Explanations of Insurance Coverage
If you take insurance, checking patient coverage up front before each appointment saves lots of of time and confusion. Clients need to know exactly what’s covered, and exactly what portion they’re responsible for, before they enter the treatment room. Some patients are more willing to pay if they understand where the number is coming from and how much their insurance has already covered.
Remember, insurance policies can change quickly, so benefits should be checked before every appointment. Search for an EHR that makes this process easy, so staff won’t be tempted to cut corners on busy days.
Offer Multiple Payment Options
Your clients will appreciate being offered several types of patient payment solutions, especially credit cards and health savings accounts. Many who are reluctant or unable to provide a check or cash at the time of service will more readily charge the fee to a card.
This strategy not only nets you faster payments, it meets your clients’ expectations for convenience and customer service. Paying by card is a standard expectation of most service providers, as is the ability to pay online.
Maintain Privacy and Confidentiality During Payment Discussions
If you need to communicate with patients about billing outside of the appointment time, you’ll need to safeguard their personal data. Many HIPAA-compliant software solutions offer ways to communicate with patients and navigate billing electronically, without putting anyone’s sensitive information at risk. Consider finding an EHR that includes billing and patient communication features so these tasks can all reside within the same secure system.
Utilize Technology to Streamline Payments and Admin Work
Patient payment solutions that are slow and cumbersome won’t do your practice, or your clients, any favors. Good technology can take this process from agonizing to effortless.
Technology can elevate the payment process by:
- Allowing patients to pay online through the patient portal.
- Storing cards on file for automatic payments.
- Adding a paywall before telehealth sessions so patients can pay with card right before the session starts.
Advantages of Collecting Payment at Time of Service
When you compare the advantages and disadvantages involved with collecting payment at the time of service, upfront payment is the clear winner. Its potential for collecting more of your due, stabilizing cash flow, and cutting down on delayed payments makes it the obvious choice for financial stability. In addition, it also reduces billing-related stress and overhead costs. You and/or your staff have fewer bills to prepare and send, and fewer late payments to chase down. This can represent incredible savings in terms of billable admin hours, not to mention the time that it frees up for other tasks.
And the benefits aren’t just for you. Upfront payments can actually lead to higher patient satisfaction and trust, because patients are not surprised by large bills that they don’t understand. When you’re able to tell patients exactly what they owe, they feel that you are being transparent and they have a positive experience with you.
Leveraging EHR Software to Revolutionize Payment Collection in Behavioral Health
A good EHR system should make most of these payment best practices easier by giving you:
- Integrated credit card processing and online payments
- Easy insurance checks at every appointment
- The ability to store patient cards on file
- HIPAA-compliant data security
- Billing and payment information available in the patient portal
All-in-one software solutions such as Valant go a step further, removing every obstacle to smooth payments without increasing busy work for staff:
- Expiration reminders for credit cards and insurance. This gives patients the chance to change their payment method before a payment is missed, which protects you against delays and collection efforts. Reminders about insurance benefits expiration alerts them if and when they need to find alternate ways of covering their treatment costs, before it becomes an issue.
- Overdue balance reminder. Sometimes, even with upfront payments, bills will need to be issued later. Valant helps protect your staff from the time suck of chasing overdue bills by sending automatic reminders to patients who are past their payment date.
- Paywall for telehealth sessions. Patients can easily take care of payment before their telehealth session, so you won’t lose any reimbursement to virtual appointments.
Don’t underestimate the importance of effective payment collection in supporting the mission of your behavioral health practice. For your providers to effectively help patients, they should be freed from chasing payments and navigating financial instability.
Specialized EHR software can present solutions for your payment challenges, and help you carry out best practices when collecting payment from patients and/or insurance carriers. Request a demo or consultation to see firsthand how Valant EHR can elevate your practice’s financial operations.