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Empathy in Medical Collections: Why It’s Important and How to Start

A little empathy goes a long way, especially when it comes to patients in medical debt. As most of us know, medical costs are becoming overwhelmingly burdensome. Now, more than ever, patients are finding themselves in harrowing medical debt. Patients are forced to spend their retirement funds, savings accounts or their most prized possessions.

Compassionately talking to patients about finances is challenging, but it offers an opportunity to relate to them and form a stronger relationship. When approaching patients with empathy and compassion, talking about bills and payments is easier. Additionally, empathy encourages better financial returns and patient loyalty.

Medical Costs and Increasing Debt

One of the main reasons why medical costs are increasing is due to high deductible health plans, which continue to rise every year. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation states that 24% of employees were enrolled in a high-deductible health plan offered by their employer in 2015. This amount is a big spike from just 4% in 2006. In the individual marketplace, this is even higher; almost 90% of consumers have a high-deductible health plan.

These changes have caused large problems for patients, many of whom are facing impossible medical bills that they’ve never faced before. Statistics show that 20% of working Americans with health insurance weren’t able to pay their medical bills in the past year, leading to major issues in their lives. Additionally, 31% of Americans insured with health care were forced to take money out of their retirement, college and savings accounts to pay their medical bills.

Something worth noting, however, is that independent practices are shown to have better patient collections rates than larger health systems. This is due to a higher quality of communication between the patient and provider, and a more intimate experience. One huge factor that makes this possible is empathy.

Remember That Patients Are People, Not Bills

When it comes to talking to your patient about payments, always remember what they could be going through. They could be dealing with loss, medical grief, financial issues or crushing debt. Approach them with empathy, and remember to give them small gestures of kindness. These include a smile and saying get well soon, or any way to show you care. When you convey positivity and kind gestures, patients are more likely to open up to you or work with you.

Don’t Judge

A survey by the Federal Reserve reported that 47% of Americans faced with a $400 emergency medical bill don’t have the immediate resources to pay it. When a patient tells you that they can’t pay a bill, remember that they could have a lot on their plate. Even if the amount seems small to you, patients have multiple bills and debts to manage. Realistically, patients would pay their bills if they could—offering payment plans or accommodations would help their situation and increase patient loyalty.

Customer Service first

Remember that you operate to serve your patients. Quality customer care is especially appreciated in medical collections, and goes a long way. When you approach patient collections with customer service in mind, you gradually become empathetic and maintain a compassionate interaction.

Check For Emotional Body Language

Keep in mind that finances can be a very sensitive subject for patients. As we mentioned earlier, you never know what they’re going through. Patients could be losing jobs, family members, homes or financial security. Put yourselves in their position and look for emotional body language such as anxiety and stress. Offer emotional support or kind gestures to help improve the situation.

Sample Scripts for Approaching Patients

If you aren’t sure how to approach a patient for medical collections, these example scripts offered by HFMA will help.

Sample Script 1

“Mr. / Ms. _______, as per your insurance carrier/plan, you have an estimated amount due of $_______. This estimate includes $_______ for your copayment, $_______ for your outstanding deductible, and $_______ for your coinsurance. This is an estimate of your liability based on the information available from your insurance company. Additional amounts due may be billed to you after your insurance company receives and processes the claim. I can help you take care of that. How would you like to pay for that today… cash, check, or credit card?”

Sample Script 2

If the patient is in the office:

“Mr. / Ms. _______, you have a current outstanding balance of $_______. How would you like to take care of that today?”

Sample Script 3

If the patient is on the phone:

“Mr. / Ms. _______, I am confirming your appointment with Dr. _______ for _______ at _______. I also see you have an outstanding balance of $_______ on your account. We would be happy to take care of that for you tomorrow at your appointment time. We accept cash, check, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover.”

Southwest Recovery Services

We’re a compassionate, empathetic debt collection agency located in Houston with offices in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Oklahoma City and St. Louis. We’re professionally trained in medical collections and understand how to approach patients with dignity and respect. To collect a medical debt, call our office today.

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