7 Essential Elements for Patient Billing Statements That Pay Up

RCM Brutal Facts: If your eye care practice is like most physician practices, you collect only 35 percent of fees due from patients at or before their office visits. And with high-deductible plans becoming more common, more and more of your practice’s revenue is coming out-of-pocket.

Let’s put aside for a moment all the things your practice can do to collect more revenue up front to focus on a single piece of paper that’s probably bottlenecking your revenue cycle: your eye care practice’s patient billing statement.

I’ve been working in or writing about the health care business for a total of 20 years. I have a PhD. And yet few things confuse me more than the health care bills I receive at my house. I must study the statements long and hard to decipher how much I owe. Many times the billing statements I receive are so ambiguous I’m not even sure if any action at all is required from me.

True Confession: Sometimes I’m so befuddled I just put the paper aside on my desk, hoping I’ll receive another statement that spells things out more clearly. And that moment I put the paper aside adds unnecessary days to someone’s revenue cycle.

All kinds of physician practices—large and small—take care of my four boys, my husband, and me. I’m gobsmacked that almost all of them make the simple mistake of making it as confusing as possible to pay what we owe. So take a look at the patient billing statements your practice or your billing company sends. Step outside of yourself for a minute. Could your mother understand it if she received it? What about your dimmest neighbor? Can you?

Here are 7 things you can do to clarify your patient billing statements, recommended by HFMA:

1. State clearly that it’s a bill so that your patients don’t confuse it with an EOB or any other of the non-actionable “statements” they routinely receive from health care entities. Use phrases like “Bill for Eye Care Services for your 5/14/2015 visit.” Use arrow graphics with phrases like “Please pay this amount.”

2. Briefly describe the services being billed. Avoid medical codes and medical jargon.

3. Clarify what insurance is expected to pay. The bill should list the patient’s primary and secondary insurance, as well the amount pending from insurance.

4. Show clearly what the patient is expected to pay. Label the amount “due from patient.”

5. Supplement the itemized, “business part” of the statement with clear directions in plain English. HFMA suggests, “Thank you for using [insert your Eye Care Group here]. Your satisfaction is our primary concern. We have billed your insurance company; however, there is a remaining amount, as shown. Please send the amount shown to the address above. Again, thank you for visiting us.”

6. Let your patients know how they can ask questions about their bill. In addition to the address where they should send payment, include a phone number. Supply the office hours when someone will be answering the phone.

7. And most importantly for patients experiencing vision problems (and everyone else too), make your statement easy to read. Here are a few print readability tips from some good graphic designers I know:

  • Use a plain white background.
  • Use a clean layout.
  • White space is easy on the eyes.
  • Use as large a font as you can.
  • Choose a sans serif font like Ariel.
  • Avoid italics.
  • Watch the leading (space between lines of text) and tracking (space between letters). If they’re too tight, your statement will be difficult to read.
  • Use ragged right margins. If you choose justified right margins, the resulting spaces between words will make the text in your statement hard to read.

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