By: Debra Beaulieu
Even with signs of economic recovery, patients are struggling to pay their medical bills, making it continually difficult for practices to maintain healthy bottom lines.
For example, Dr. Mark G. Cleveland of Burlington, Iowa, recently told ModernMedicine that during the past two years, the number of patients whose accounts are referred to a collection agency has risen 40 to 50 percent. The number of patients with whom he works out payment plans has expanded about 50 percent, he added.
Tough times like these call for tight policies, according to practice management experts. Although they may not all work for all offices, consider the following steps to help your practice emerge from the recession stronger than ever.
- Collect patient responsibilities upfront. Although upfront collections have been the norm for some practices for years, more offices are making the switch now that patients' copays and deductibles are becoming more significant. Some practices even request patients provide their credit card numbers upfront to cover any uninsured fees.
- Appeal denials. "Insurance companies make a lot of mistakes. And they count on (doctors) not appealing them," according to practice management consultant Judy Capko. As for public payers, she said, "Medicare denies approximately 11 percent, and 40 percent of these are never resubmitted. However, Medicare states that when a claim is appealed, 65 percent have resulted in increased payment."
- Scrutinize overhead. For example, Dr. Kimberly Butterwick told ModernMedicine that she slashed marketing expenses by 12 percent and boosted patient flow at her aesthetic practice by offering two to three monthly specials through email blasts and by eliminating most of her print advertising. And Dr. Sanford J. Brown recently wrote in Medscape Today that he saves on rent by housing his practice in a residential fourplex, which he owns. The doctor converted one of the apartments to an office and rents out the other three for profit.
- Fight fraud. Implement strong internal controls and convey a zero-tolerance message to employees about fraud, advised B.J. Hoffman in a recent column in Physicians News Digest. Based on data from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, a medical practice with a few employees and moderate income may well be suffering annual losses in excess of $10,000.
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