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Collect Outstanding Balance at Your Front Desk Without Waiting Room Outbursts

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Collect Outstanding Balance at Your Front Desk Without Waiting Room Outbursts

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QUESTION: We collect outstanding balances as patients check in at our front desk – before they see the provider. Generally this goes well, but recently we’ve had several instances of patients getting upset and loud. Not only is this problematic for our front desk staff, it is very uncomfortable for other patients sitting in the waiting room.

Collecting outstanding amounts at check-in has helped us significantly reduce our A/R, but we are concerned that it doesn’t convey the patient-friendly environment we want. Can you provide us with some ideas to continue to collect at check in with a better outcome?

Question from Billings, MT Subscriber

ANSWER: Unfortunately, there are always going to be those patients that respond negatively to being asked to pay their balance. The answer to resolving your issue is preparation.

To head off public conflict, try keeping the conversation private by assigning a designated person to take these patients to a separate area in which the situation can be defused. Some practices have found it helpful to separate all patients with open balances.

However you choose to do this, you can assign this responsibility of pulling these patients aside with a staff member who acts as your financial counselor. The front desk should inform patients who have outstanding balances that a financial counselor needs to discuss some account issues with them prior to the provider seeing them.

Once in a separate area, your counselor can then discuss the patients open balance with them. Away from a public area the collection conversation and be open without the concern of others hearing. For example, patients may get angry when asked to pay an outstanding balance if they are embarrassed by not having the money to pay.

By pulling the patient aside, it allows the patient to speak freely. Your financial counselor can come with a plan with the patient to get the balance paid (i.e. refiling the claim, submitting the claim to a different insurer, initiating a payment plan with the patient, etc.).

IMPORTANT: Although collecting balances before the patient sees the doctor can be an excellent way to reduce your accounts receivable, be sure to never withhold care from a patient due to an outstanding amount due.

If the patient refuses to pay and your financial counselor is unable to work with the patient to come up with a plan, allow the patient to see the provider then work with your practice manager and/or physician to come up with a plan after care has been provided and the patient has left for the day.

Handling patient balances in a confidential and gracious manner will increase patient satisfaction, keep the front desk area flowing, and remove hostile discussions from public earshot.

There are many reasons that patients may get angry and possibly hostile with your front desk staff (collecting open balances is only one of them).

To provide your reception staff with the tools they need to defuse the angriest patients, check out the upcoming online training from grassroots practice manager and expert trainer, Tracy Bird, FACMPE, CPC, CPMA, CEMC, CPC-I, AAPC Fellow.

Her 90-minute online training session Front Desk: Head Off Patient Service Disasters will help your front desk team create amazing first impressions and placate the angriest patients.

Increase patient satisfaction and keep patients coming back time and time again by taking advantage of the session.

Sign up now.

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Meet Your Writer

Tracy Bird

President/CEO, Medical Practice Advisors, LLC

Tracy has many years healthcare management experience in multiple specialties in the areas of practice operations, revenue cycle management, coding, documentation, staff training, communications, policy and procedure development, and workflow redesign. Her experience includes work with private practices, hospital based practices, rural health clinics, and FQHC’s She is an ACMPE Fellow with MGMA, a Certified Professional Coder (CPC), a Certified Professional Medical Auditor (CMPA), a Certified Evaluation and Management Auditor (CEMC) a Certified Professional Medical Coding Curriculum instructor (CPC-I). Tracy is co-founder and past president of the NE Kansas Chapter of AAPC, a past president of MGMA-GKC, is the ACMPE Forum Rep for Kansas, and Kansas City, and previously served on the Certification Commission for National MGMA. Tracy is also an independent practice management consultant with national MGMA. Tracy presents to many healthcare organizations on a variety of practice management topics as well as being a National speaker for MGMA and AAPC.