You can shorten the billing cycle and increase patient satisfaction by following these important guidelines.

Collections from self-pay patients is a thorny issue for many providers who face administrative headaches if self-pay patients are confused about their bills or simply fail to pay in a timely fashion. Many providers are seeing their levels of accounts receivable increase as self-pay patient services increase. To improve collections, providers can redesign their patient statements to improve clarity; ensure effective branding across printed and electronic statements; and implement online technology to maximize efficiency in the billing process. Taking these steps can help minimize billing-related calls to providers' administrative staff and shorten the average time self-paying account balances are outstanding.

1. Redesign your statements for clarity.
The traditional focus areas in healthcare billing — coding and compliance — are essential but insufficient when it comes to self-pay patients. There's a greater need for clear and concise communication whether in print or online. An Intuit Health study released in 2011 showed that 41 percent of all patients do not have confidence that the billed amount is correct, and 57 percent of all patients have had a bill go to a collection agency. Many patients are unsure whether to pay the provider or their insurance company.

Solve the communication problem by following the “CATS” approach for best practice – Clarity, Accuracy, Timeliness and Simplicity. Emphasize what, who, when and where. Highlight all aspects of the patient's financial responsibility — and make these points stand out by bolding and enlarging only information that needs to be stressed. Enlarge the font sizes of the account or guarantor number, amount due, statement due date and remittance address to ensure patients don't need to reach for their reading glasses. Choose only easy-to-read fonts and font sizes, use sans-serif fonts (no fancy script) and keep serif fonts limited to message areas. Keep font sizes consistent within each area, and never use more than two fonts within the statement design.

2. Brand both your printed and electronic statements.
Remember that patients deal with many vendors — often including multiple healthcare providers. Ensure your billing statements reflect your company's brand image by incorporating your logo and other brand elements exactly as you do in marketing and on-site materials. Place your logo on both the main body of the statement and the tear-off stub. Visual consistency across your materials is important for brand building — and also important for helping self-pay patients maintain a clear understanding of whom they are paying (in this case the provider and not an insurance company).

For further consistency, ensure your electronic statement exactly matches your printed statement. This single presentation should stress the availability of online services, including bill payment. If you work with a third-party online-billing provider, be certain the provider can offer you a fully branded payment portal. Every aspect of the “after care” process should reflect your brand identity in the marketplace.

3. Maximize efficiency in the billing process through online technology.

Technology should support all aspects of the billing process. If you are considering working with a third-party billing provider, ask whether that provider can offer you complete transparency into each step of the billing process. You want the ability to transmit a single data file to the third party, directly out of your practice management software — without needing to purchase additional software — and then track each transaction from invoice creation to online payment.

Consider printing QR (quick response) codes in statements, which patients can photograph with their smartphones and be taken directly to the online billing portal. Every step that supports use of your online portal offers the double benefit of making payment easier for patients and lowering costs for providers.

Be certain you have technology in place that allows call center and other administrative staff to review exact copies of patient statements. When a call center representative can see exactly what the patient sees, issues are typically resolved in a single phone call. For further efficiencies, implement technology that allows administrative staff to view archived copies of patient statements. Some third-party billing providers are able to offer archiving through a customized Web-based portal. Archiving statements lets front desk and customer service personnel review past and current statements with patients at check-in, making the often-impersonal billing experience much more personal.

In fact, the check-in process at the front desk can become an opportunity for patients to resolve questions, thereby saving call center resources later. And at the call center, when staff members can easily access all previously printed and mailed documents, their patient calls are smoother and more efficient. Providers can also improve their ability to track cash flows when patient statements are archived.

About the author
Brian W. Kueppers is founder and CEO, APEX. APEX is a technology-driven statement processing company providing statement design, e-statement and e-payment tools, and complete print and mail services to the healthcare industry. For more information on APEX solutions: