Just when it seems like your practice’s income is rising back up to pre-pandemic levels, the government is planning to lower Medicare payments once again. And if you aren’t prepared to take another hit to your income, you aren’t alone.
There are numerous ways that you can uncover hidden revenue to replace the upcoming Medicare reimbursement cuts from billing no-shows to stronger appeals, but one area commonly overlooked is the impact your front desk has on your practice’s revenue.
Your revenue cycle actually starts when patients walk into your practice, not when they receive medical services. Accordingly, if your front office staff members aren’t properly trained, you could lose revenue due to upset patients leaving, or failure to collect copays and deductibles at the time of the visit.
In other words, your front desk is the first line of defense in bringing income to your practice. A few simple process changes can help keep patients happy, reduce patient attrition, and boost your collection rates.
You can help replace the upcoming cuts to Medicare payments by optimizing your practice’s front desk with these easy-to-implement tactics.
1. Maintain Strong Customer Service
If you don’t think medical practices should focus on customer service just as strongly as retail businesses do, think again. This can not only help you offset cuts to your Medicare payments, but can also allow you to retain patients.
It costs your medical practice 10 times more to attract new patients than to keep the ones you have, and your front desk is a massive part of patient retention. Assuming your front desk staff members know the ins and outs of excellent customer service can be very costly if you are wrong. Accordingly, here are some key front desk customer service skills to ensure your team has mastered:
- Understandability: Speak to patients using easy-to-understand language and be empathetic. Patients who are happy will keep coming back, giving you a sure-fire way to preserve your Medicare payments and other reimbursements.
- Build a Relationship: Healthcare is a business, but there is much more to it than that. It is vital that your front desk staff create a connection with your patients rather than a transaction. Patients must feel that your front desk team members care about them, not just that they are checking them in or taking a co-pay.
- Communication: The people at your front desk must be adept at removing barriers to communication. They need to keep an eye out for those older patients who might be hard of hearing or realize when a patient is overly worried.
In some cases, patients are not at their best when they show up. Your front desk team must use active listening to engage them, showing empathy and understanding rather than taking things personally or blowing off a patient’s inquiry about wait times with an answer like “I don’t know.” Instead, they might say, “I know the doctor had an emergency this morning, and I’m sorry he’s behind. Would you like me to check and see how much longer it will be?” And be certain that they always follow up. Nothing makes a patient angrier than to be left hanging.
- Non-Verbal: Your front desk team should also smile and use empathetic facial expressions. If you look angry while saying nice things, the patient will still realize you’re angry. More than half of all communication occurs non-verbally, so showing your strong customer service skills not only in your words but also in your expressions and body language, can go a long way.
2. Speak in Real Terms
If your front desk team uses complicated medical jargon or even internal acronyms, the patient may not understand what they’re saying and could end up frustrated and angry. A recent survey from London South University showed that 43% of people between the ages of 16 and 65 can’t “effectively understand and use everyday health information.” Accordingly, it’s important for your front desk staff to use simple-to-understand language with every patient.
For instance, if you’re typically accustomed to saying, “The doctor wants you to schedule a follow-up for a hepatobiliary ultrasound,” you may want to find a simpler way of saying it, so the patient knows what you’re referring to. Perhaps you’ll change it to “The doctor wants you to schedule a liver scan.” Simple changes like these can help put patients at ease so they’ll feel a connection with your staff and keep coming back to your practice.
You should also use easy-to-understand language when talking to patients about payments. If they ask why they owe money for a particular service, you should let them know the clear-language reason. Telling a patient, “It was coded as a physical, and we don’t get Medicare payments for those” does nothing to help them understand the issue. Instead, you could say, “Medicare doesn’t pay for the physical you had. Although Medicare paid for a ‘Welcome to Medicare visit’ when you first joined the program and covers an annual wellness visit, those are different from the physical you requested. Medicare doesn’t consider a physical payable.” You could go on to explain the differences, as well as providing more information about the non-payable service.
Note: Download our free checklist to help your front desk staff better understand the philosophy behind excellent customer service.
3. Boost Front Desk Collections
Asking for money is difficult for some people. Even so, it is a skill that your front desk MUST master, particularly in light of cuts to Medicare payments. Done incorrectly, your patients get mad and you don’t get paid. Your front desk staff should know how to request payments from patients at the time of the visit, so you don’t have to bill them later. Copays, coinsurance, and deductibles can easily be collected on the day of the appointment to prevent your practice from having to chase patients down later to get that money.
Your practice should always get every patient’s insurance information when they make the appointment so you can verify coverage before they come in. That way, when patients present for their appointments, your front desk staff will be able to collect any past-due balances, copays, and deductibles. Rather than saying, “Would you like to pay that now?” your front desk team should say “How would you like to pay for that?” This way, you’re not giving them the option to pay later, but you’re still asking politely.
Optimizing the performance of your front desk team can help you keep your patients happy and coming back, offsetting a portion of the upcoming cuts to Medicare payments.
There’s much more to know about how your medical practice can bring in more income. To get information about how your front desk can help optimize your reimbursement, check out our five-part Front Desk Team Essentials training series. You’ll learn how to optimize collections up-front, head off issues before they happen, maintain strong customer service — and much more!
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