:dropcap_open:A:dropcap_close:lmost every new patient encounter will begin with the phone call that potential new patient will make to schedule their initial visit. Setting the financial tone of the relationship with that potential patient as early as the initial phone call lays the groundwork for a healthy partnership in the years to come. In the same manner that we might not go to the mall and purchase a new outfit without first taking a peek at the price tag, most new patients will want to know the costs associated with their care before they begin. Communicating this information effectively without scaring the patient away is a finely tuned dance that requires confidence, knowledge, and effortless ease.
We’re frequently asked, “How much do we talk about finances on the very first, new patient phone call?” The answers to this question are as varied as the reason for them. Some feel that any discussion of finances leads a potential new patient to believe that all we are worried about is the finances. While we don’t want money to be the main focus of our list of questions for a potential new patient, some discussion of the finances is vital to ensure that your process is smooth and orderly. You must know if they plan to use some third party insurance to assist with payment of their bill. You really can’t answer the all important, “How much does it cost to see the doctor?” question if you don’t know about their insurance. We can apply patterns and our experience based on other, similar patients, but the truth is we never REALLY know until we verify the insurance.
By asking the patient, “Is there some type of insurance coverage you would like our assistance with?” we imply that our job is to assist, but the ultimate responsibility remains that of the patient. There may be certain responsibilities required of the office, such as mandatory billing for a program like Medicare, but setting this tone with a patient early on that you are assisting, and not being solely responsible, is most useful. While the conversation may naturally turn to questions about network participation, policies relative to noncovered services, or any cash discounts that you may offer, minimizing these on the telephone is preferred. It is helpful to have a “cheat sheet” at the front desk or near the phone to have standardized answers to some of the more difficult questions asked on a new patient phone call. Some commonly asked questions to be prepared for include:
:dropcap_open:Communicating this information effectively without scaring the patient away is a finely tuned dance that requires confidence, knowledge, and effortless ease.:quoteleft_close:
“Does the doctor participate in my insurance network?” If you do not participate, but offer other patient friendly payment plans, appropriate scripting will help ensure the appointment is secured.
“How much does it cost to see the doctor?”: Knowing how to think on your feet and explain your fees whether cash or insurance, will ensure that the patient gets in for the first visit where you can explain in greater detail.
Verifying a patient’s insurance benefits before they are seen by the doctor can significantly reduce financial concerns and confusion later. Sometimes this seems like a potential waste of time when they’re not even our patient yet. The benefits far outweigh the negative effects of any potential time wasted if the patient does not come in for an initial visit. The ability to collect properly on a first visit because you have already verified the insurance lends itself to the very effective financial policies you are able to enforce on visit one.
Collecting on the first visit allows that patient to establish good financial habits and patterns with your office. Often, patients are used to the type of benefits their insurance may have in a primary care physician’s office, such as a flat copayment. Frequently, chiropractic benefits can be complicated and could even include patient responsibility for each and every different service rendered in the visit. Unless the patient has used these benefits before, it can create sticker shock. Therefore, when you are able to discuss benefits on the first visit, even in a limited way, you are further setting a great financial tone for that patient relationship.
:quoteright_open:It can seem like financial matters are the elephant in the middle of the room that nobody wants to talk about.:quoteright_close:
Many chiropractic practices use the procedure of explaining full benefits and patient financial responsibility on a subsequent visit after the doctor has laid out a treatment plan with the patient. This is the perfect time for a financial report of findings. Patients want to know what to expect in order to budget their expected financial contribution. Conducting this financial consultation is a tremendous habit to adopt. One of the primary reasons patients drop out of care is lack of a clear understanding of financial liability or the perceived inability to pay. Most practices have policies that allow the patient to make payments toward their responsibility and reinforcing this in a financial report of findings tends to keep the patient on track and not so ready to drop out over simple financial matters. The financial report of findings should include a review of the doctor’s treatment plan, explanation of the patient’s responsibility, and their options for making payments. Insuring that no one leaves this meeting without a clear understanding of that responsibility will go a long way toward laying a strong foundation with this patient.
It can seem like financial matters are the elephant in the middle of the room that nobody wants to talk about. However, the practice that addresses patient finances head on, in a matter-of-fact conversation, alleviates these concerns before they crop up. By discussing finances when the patient calls for their initial visit, at the first visit and again when laying out a treatment plan, the financial aspects of their treatment encounters in your office tend to not be a patient’s primary concern. With their mind set on getting better and not focused on financial issues, the patient is a happy and productive practice member.
Kathy Mills Chang is the founder of her own consulting firm, assisting doctors with finding financial and reimbursement ease in practice and helping them to make and keep more money. She specializes in coding, documentation, Medicare, billing and collections and patient finances. She can be reached for service and questions through her website at www.kmcuniversity.com or by email at [email protected].