Keeping Up With Patient Billing: Three Considerations for O&P Providers

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By Jennifer Leon

Consumer behavior around the globe has shifted significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organizations have been forced to shift toward the Amazon model of catering to their customers. Self-service, instant gratification, and minimal to no contact have become normalized consumer expectations over the last year and a half. Although it may feel like these methods are only relevant for consumer sales, these new best practices have the potential to greatly improve efficiencies and the patient experience in healthcare as well.

In this market, making patient payments easy, accessible, and instant is becoming increasingly important as the consumer mindset changes, and traditional methods of O&P billing and collections won't keep up. Clinging to old methods and processes can not only become more frustrating for patients and providers, but costly in revenue and efficiency.

O&P providers can shift their usual patient collections processes to be more accommodating for patients while remaining profitable. Here are three billing technologies and process changes to improve efficiency, increase probability of payment adherence, and enhance the overall patient experience.

Card on File

Traditional methods of billing patients and chasing them for payment after the fact can be bothersome and time consuming for providers and patients. When we consider healthcare services such as a dental exam, an eye exam, or even an appointment with a general practitioner, requiring a credit or debit card to be kept on file is the new standard, even for basic appointments. Keeping a card on file not only secures services rendered, but it also simplifies and streamlines the patient billing process. Why should O&P providers be any different?

While the business of O&P involves many more nuances than online consumer purchases, billing and payment for O&P services should not be handled any differently. In fact, it's far more beneficial for O&P providers to invest in programs to manage cards on file due to the often high cost of orthotic and prosthetic devices, as compared to other industries or even other segments in healthcare.

By keeping a card on file, providers can streamline a patient payment plan, should the patient require one. This gives providers the ability to secure payment for services rendered even when the patient can't immediately pay in full. Providers can save on budget without having to hire a bill collector or utilize existing resources to collect payment. On the flip side, this allows patients the freedom to pay their bills in a way that suits their individual financial situations.

Software that automates card-on-file programs allow providers to automatically charge a patient's credit card on file at the invoice due date and/or set up an automatic payment plan. Automatic payment solutions, along with e-delivery functionality, will allow for automated features like sending electronic statements on the provider's behalf.

In choosing a card-on-file software program, through which sensitive financial information is saved, it's extremely important to consider vendors with appropriate security measures, such as encryption of card and banking data. Keeping credit cards on file in an unsecured location or even worse, on paper, can be a dangerous liability. Credit card information must be saved in a secure environment where it's encrypted and tokenized to ensure safety from theft.

With programs for collecting automatic payments, providers can be confident their patient's information is safe while guaranteeing they receive compensation for services rendered.

Digital Bill Pay

Offering patients a bill pay website provides a secure way to pay their bills quickly, easily, from anywhere, and at any time. Many O&P providers offer their patients a basic bill pay site, but the functionality tends to be limited to just single payments. In this era of instant gratification, we must look toward digitizing the full patient experience, all the way through paying bills.

Utilizing a healthcare-focused solution can allow providers to offer a more functional and user-friendly bill pay site. These sites can give patients access to their accounts to not only pay their bills, but view current invoices, view statement history, add family members, and keep an inventory of their payment history. The beauty of a bill pay site is that patients can do this when and where it's convenient for them, essentially offering self-service for payments and financial records, without using staff time or resources.

For patients, this also offers the benefit of quickly gathering historical medical statements with a click of a button. By saving payment history, patients can easily submit claims for flexible spending or health savings accounts. And, by completely eliminating patients' need to call the facility, providers save staff time and resources along the way.

Payment Line

Offering an interactive voice response (IVR) payment line can be a real game-changer for O&P patients and providers. An IVR payment line is separate from a billing question line and allows patients the flexibility to pick up their phone and pay their bill on the spot. Offering an IVR line as a payment option meets the need for an additional contactless option beyond a bill pay site, which can be beneficial for patients who are uncomfortable paying online.

Without requiring staff resources, an IVR phone line provides patients with a secure and contactless bill pay option at any hour of any day. Patients can also use this solution to check the status of their last payment, without talking to the provider's staff. Patients save time and money with this solution as well, bypassing the need to buy stamps or balance checkbooks. Providers can process payments more quickly and simplify transaction management to improve staff efficiencies. 

The digital transformation in healthcare has only been reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging more convenience and self-service for patients. Patients are not just searching for, but expecting, the digital conveniences and control they've become accustomed to, even when it comes to their medical care.

The variety of software solutions and new technologies on the market are here to make O&P providers' lives easier while helping them meet new patient demands with ease. By investing in software for patient billing and collections and offering a variety of contactless options for paying bills, O&P providers can significantly reduce their administrative burdens so they can focus on keeping their patients happier and more satisfied with their care.

Jennifer Leon is vice president of Brightree Patient Collections, Atlanta.