Six tips to train physician staff, protect physician at same time

Give plan members early warning about the financial responsibilities they may face for treatment. Your preparation may include training your staff to raise the issue when a member first arrives, especially if the member is likely to owe a substantial amount. Focus on the following areas when training your staff:

1. Master the techniques of an initial conversation. St. Helena (CA) Hospital Admitting Supervisor Jennifer Bette encourages staff to clearly explain to patients what the hospital needs from them and to ease their minds with small talk while guiding them through admission.

2. Directly address payment methods. Bette says that getting through the conversation as quickly as possible is best, so encourage staff to be polite but direct.

3. Effectively manage patients' financial status. Sarah Morrison, director of patient benefits and financial relations at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH, says to train staff how to respond when patients say they can't afford to pay right away, won't pay, or can't pay at all. Refer them to a financial counselor, Bette says, so payment can be accepted and the patient will be ensured a speedy registration and discharge.

4. Provide information about charity care guidelines. At Dartmouth-Hitchcock, staff distribute cards with phone numbers for the financial counseling, financial assistance, and customer service departments.

5. Provide applicable discounts. Several facilities offer discounts if patients pay on the day of service or within a certain time frame. For example, require the patient to pay 40% if prior to or at the time of service, 35% if prior to discharge, 30% within one week after the service, 20% within two weeks, and 10% within a month.

6. Flag patients who have a history of not paying. Registration representatives and financial counselors should check the patients' past accounts. "They can attempt collection on old balances," Bette says.

This week's tip was excerpted from HCPro's monthly newsletter, Managed Care Contracting & Reimbursement Advisor. For more information, click here.

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