Managing the nuances between collecting outstanding debt while protecting patient relationships and confidentiality
South African consumers are under huge financial strain, and the evidence of this lies in the rising burden of debt owing to creditors, and the declining ability of debtors to service this debt. Medical practices are especially finding that once diligently paying patients are struggling to service their account payments, threatening the cash flow and sustainability of the practice.
“There is a very fine balance for medical practitioners to strike in collecting on outstanding debts from patients. In many instances you may be dealing with a patient who has a long-standing and often quite personal relationship with their healthcare provider, and secondly who may be facing a health crisis of sorts at the same time, making the collections conversation that much more challenging. While many will want to avoid going the debt collections route for fear of damaging relations with their patients, the reality is that unpaid debt will limit the ability of the practice to grow and remain sustainable. A professional, independent collections partner that specialises in medical collections is best positioned to handle this sensitive task,” explains Tshepiso Lehlabi, New Business Developer at ITC Business Administrators, a professional debt collections agency and part of the Alefbet Holdings Group.
“Look for a collections partner that has experience in medical collections and brings a data-driven and empathetic approach that sees your practice recover what’s due, safeguards patient confidentiality, maintains a positive relationship with your patient and is fully compliant with the regulations and best practices for the healthcare sector. There are many important nuances in medical collections that requires collections agents who bring empathy, professionalism and knowledge of how to help patients catch up on their repayment commitments, as well as safeguard the relationship and client confidentiality,” explains Tshepiso.
Debt collection for medical practitioners and healthcare practices can be challenging for numerous reasons:
- Patient privacy concerns: Medical debt is often tied to sensitive information about a patient’s health, and doctors must adhere to strict regulations when it comes to sharing that information. Debt collectors must also follow these regulations, which can make it difficult to obtain the necessary information to collect the debt.
- Complex billing and health insurance systems: The medical schemes and health insurance industry has complex billing and insurance systems that can make it difficult to determine how much a patient owes and to whom. The patient may not even be aware of any shortfalls and assume their medical scheme has settled their bills in full. This can result in confusion and delays in collecting payments.
- Patient financial hardship: Patients may struggle to pay their medical bills due to financial hardship, which can make it challenging for doctors to collect the debt. Doctors may be hesitant to pursue aggressive collection efforts, as they don’t want to damage their relationship with the patient.
- Legal restrictions: Debt collection is subject to a number of legal restrictions, and doctors must comply with these regulations when attempting to collect medical debt. This can make the process more challenging and time-consuming.
When assessing a third-party debt collector for a medical practice, there are several important considerations to keep in mind. These include:
- Compliance with regulations: The debt collector should be licensed and certified with all applicable regulations and industry bodies.
- Reputation: Conduct research on the debt collector to determine their reputation in the medical industry and ask for testimonials and referrals from other medical practices that have used their services.
- Track Record and Experience: Choose a debt collector with experience in medical debt collection that understands the nuances of medical billing and collections.
- Technology and Data: The debt collector should have the technology, data and tools to help them track, manage, and collect debts efficiently and maintain patient confidentiality.
- Fees and costs: The debt collector should be transparent about their fees and costs, including any upfront costs, contingency fees, or other expenses.
- Customer service: Choose a debt collector that communicates clearly and regularly with you and your patients. They should be easy to reach and responsive to any questions or concerns you may have. Look for a partner that will guide your patients towards a payment plan to manage their debt and prevent them from becoming overwhelmed.
- Performance metrics: The debt collector should be able to provide you with performance metrics, such as recovery rates and average collection times, to help you gauge their effectiveness.
- Empathy and understanding: Debt collection can be a difficult and emotional issue for patients, and it is important to approach it with empathy and understanding. Make sure that your collections partner’s agents are adept at maintaining a positive relationship between the doctor and patient.
Debt collection for doctors can be a sensitive issue, so it’s important to work with a professional debt collections partner that has solid experience in this field and will take steps to protect the patient relationship. It’s imperative that an external collections partner acknowledges that every patient is unique and spends the time to research and understand what ‘success looks like’ for your practice. The personal circumstances, insurance and medical schemes complexity, financial provisioning and regulations for the healthcare industry are very different to a retail or commercial setting, so it’s vital to work with a partner with a solid track record in the medical collections environment,” concludes Tshepi.
For more information go to www.itcba.co.za