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Great Patient Service Requires Proactive Communication

What images come to mind when you think about “customer service” in the physician’s office? Typically, most people picture front-desk staff greeting patients or answering phones. But, I believe, effective customer service should begin before a patient ever arrives at the office, and should include financial discussions as well as clinical ones.

I worked in physician billing and collections for nearly 18 years. Over that time, I came to appreciate that customer service, patient satisfaction, and reimbursement are all somewhat intertwined. The more you proactively communicate with patients upfront, the higher the back-end satisfaction on the part of patients and reimbursement staff alike.

Here’s what I suggest: Prior to a patient’s arrival in your office—especially if the patient is new to your practice—reach out to discuss your payment policies and expectations. Offer it as a courtesy so that patients are better aware of their out-of-pocket costs.

Such a call, of course, entails knowing a patient’s insurance coverage, co-pay, and other financial details. Practices that have real-time or batch eligibility tools can utilize them to verify insurance information prior to the patient arriving for their appointment. Practices without eligibility verification can simply state, “As a courtesy, we will have someone contact you prior to your appointment to review your insurance and payment information.”

For practices without eligibility verification, they will need to assign staff members to contact insurance providers by phone or their websites to verify benefits and eligibility before the patient arrives. These tasks can be time-consuming and costly for practices. Using eligibility verification tools automates this process, which frees up staff to be utilized in other ways around the office.

These steps not only set up the expectation of payment due at the time of service, but also offer the opportunity to address any potentially problematic issues ahead of time. Consider how a patient feels if, while standing in front of a long line of other patients, you have to say, “I’m sorry, but we were unable to verify your insurance coverage.” (Consider any HIPAA repercussions, too!)

Truly effective customer service is about more than just making a good first impression. It’s a practice-wide effort required of everyone from registration clerk to nurse, and physician to check-out clerk, billing, and charge entry staff. Everyone must deliver the kind of positive experience that ensures patients return to your office—instead of your competitor’s practice.