Practice Management Tip

5 Technologies That Increase Patient Collections

By Cheryl Toth, MBA

Deductibles are skyrocketing and patient financial responsibilities are reaching new heights. Employers continue to move toward higher deductible plans to keep their expenses in check. Many health insurance exchange plans have deductibles of $3,000 or more. 

And the millions of patients being added through Affordable Care Act (ACA) are increasing both visit and collection volumes.

Practices can no longer afford “we’ll bill you after insurance has paid” style collections. Sending statements and following up with those who don’t pay is expensive. And once patient balances start going beyond 120 days, good luck collecting them. 

Collecting at the point of service is your best chance at getting patients to pay. But with so many different plans and benefit packages, it has been tough to know exactly what can be collected. These five technologies solve this and other collections challenges. 

1.  Payor cost estimators. 

These free, payor-provided technology tools give staff access to real-time, patient copay and deductible data at the point of service. Staff enters CPT codes online, and the amount the practice can collect from the patient is delivered in seconds. Data are specific to the patient’s insurance-plan benefits and provide the exact amount that can be collected in the office.

Using a cost estimator, staff can feel confident asking for payment office before the patient leaves your office. And the data makes pre-surgical financial counseling faster and more accurate – allowing your counselors to more easily collect deposits up front. Many insurance plans offer cost estimators on their web sites. Others deliver the data through statewide or regional portals such as Availity ( Call payors to learn about options.

2. Online bill pay. 

American consumers love to pay their bills online. In face, a 2013 survey conducted by Western Union indicated that 46% of Americans with Internet access pay their bills online or through a banking web site. Cash in on this trend. If your practice management system vendor offers a patient portal, use its online payment feature. Alternatively, solutions from TransFirst ( or PayPal ( are easy to implement and easy to use. 

3. Automatic, recurring payments. 

Paper vouchers and payment books are things of the past. Just as consumers pay for gym memberships and monthly Netflix subscriptions, practices can offer automated payments by credit card. These require a one-time setup and virtually no ongoing management by your staff. TransFirst and PayPal both offer an automatic, recurring bill-pay feature. Some patient portals do too.

After you’ve launched an online payment and recurring payment option, promote this payment convenience. Put fliers at the front desk and posters in the exam rooms. Add it to your ‘on hold’ message. And make sure the front desk, billing office, and surgical counselors are fully trained on how patients can take advantage of using this service to pay off their account.

4. Online calculators.

We have recommended the use of a one-page Surgical Cost Quotation in our workshops and consulting projects for decades. This worksheet shows patients their financial responsibility and makes it easier to collect a deposit before you head to the O.R.

The Coverage Calculator (, founded by a surgeon, is a free, online tool that accomplishes the same thing, digitally – making your practice look progressive and enabling staff to have an interactive conversation with patients about what they owe. Staff enters plan allowable data and patient-specific information such as coinsurance and deductible (available on most payer portals), and the Coverage Calculator instantly calculates what patients owe – making it easier to collect. 

5. Your practice management system (PMS). 

The PMS is a treasure trove of information, yet we find many practices don’t take advantage of certain collection features. For instance, most systems have a batch eligibility feature, which checks eligibility overnight for the next day’s appointment list. Staff can generate a daily report that lists all patients on the schedule and the amount that can be collected from each.

Collecting past balances from patients being seen within the 90-day global period is another often-missed collection opportunity. Train staff how and where to look in the computer system for these amounts. Then empower them to ask for payment at check-in, or arrange a payment plan. (Offering automatic, recurring billing as an option, of course).

Cheryl Toth is a consultant and writer with Chicago-based KarenZupko & Associates. She brings more than 20 years of consulting, management, training, software product and executive management experience to her projects.