“Another option we have at our disposal is for a patient to apply for a medical credit card from an organization such as CareCredit,” said Blum. “I would rather have my money up front than directly extending credit to the patient.”
Explore This IssueFebruary 2013
Ear, Nose and Throat Associates of South Florida uses fee estimators, such as the online tools provided by payers such as Blue Cross, to estimate what patients are expected to owe. “We know if our contract is X percent of Medicare, we can collect what we believe the fee will be,” said Blum. “If it ends up being less than that, we would rather refund patients’ money than chase them down for an outstanding balance. Studies show that if we don’t collect copayments at the time of service, it will cost us more to collect than the amount we are owed in the first place.”
Additionally, as high-deductible health plans become more prevalent, Blum said, it’s even more important to collect balances in full up front. “Patients come in to our offices with much larger deductibles. Before patients reach their annual deductible (especially in the beginning of each calendar year), it is common for them to have to pay for 100 percent of the cost of the visit.”
Out of Sight…
There’s one other reason why payment at time of service is the best way to go for an otolaryngology practice (or for any other medical practice): That’s the time when the patient feels most favorably disposed toward you.
“They’re aware of the care they’re getting right then,” said Brinson. “Once you’ve sent a statement and they’re home and they’ve recuperated, they may think that the doctor doesn’t really need their $200. And, if they’ve had any sort of negative aspect to their experience—say, they thought the doctor didn’t spend enough time with them or the front desk person wasn’t nice—people can come up with all kinds of reasons why they don’t need to pay the bill.”