Patient payments are just one aspect of hospitals’ revenue cycle management, but improving patient collections can make a difference to health systems’ bottom lines. The Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey of 2012 discovered that 75 million Americans – or 2 in 5 adults – either struggled with paying their medical bills or were paying off medical debt at the time of the survey. For hospitals, the number of patient payments that go uncollected can add up.

However, hospitals can improve patient collections by embracing some proven strategies that worked for one medical center. According to an article by Kaiser Health News and National Public Radio, Mid State Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Center, a physician practice in Louisiana, struggled with receiving timely patient payments two years ago, but it was able to boost its patient revenue by adopting stronger point-of-service strategies and patient billing methods. Because of this, the 11-physician group practice is now able to bring in $10 million annually.

Hospitals only need to make a few tweaks to their patient payment collections strategy to experience better patient revenue.

1. Change POS communications
It’s a fairly common practice for front desk staff to ask patients if they would like to pay part of their bills before they receive care or leave the hospital. Getting patients to provide a small payment while they are in the hospital can help them catch-up on any outstanding statements. This is because Becker’s Hospital Review says the odds of patients paying their bills after they leave the hospital is often lower than if they provide payment right away. It’s incredibly easy for patients to talk themselves into just paying at home, but there is always the chance that they will forget.

This is why Ken Hertz, principal consultant with the Medical Group Management Association Health Care Consult Group, says hospitals need to alter how employees ask patients to pay part of their at the POS.

“In the past someone at the front desk would say, ‘Would you like to pay today?’ Because the simple answer to that is ‘Well, no! If I can walk out without paying, I’m walking out without paying!'” Hertz told Kaiser. “Today, it’s more of ‘Mr. Smith you have an outstanding balance. How would you like to pay for that?'”

Hospitals can alter the simple question of “Would you like to pay today?” to one that encourages patients to actually make a payment. Reminding patients they have an outstanding balance may be effective in motivating them to provide a payment right then and there, according to Hertz. In fact, POS collections have been so successful that Mid State has seen its bad debt drop by 25 percent over the last two years.

2. Use price transparency and cost estimations
Medical bills can be confusing, so giving patients transparency into hospital prices and how much they may have to pay before they even receive a service can simplify the process, Doing this improves the chance that patients will pay their bills in a timely manner. According to Kaiser, Mid State Orthopaedic has financial professionals scattered throughout the clinic to help patients understand the costs of their upcoming care by providing them each with a cost estimation.

For instance, one patient, Gayle Jackson-Pryce, visited Mid State Orthopaedic to see if something was wrong with her shoulder, and her physician ended up telling her she would have to have surgery. Jackson-Pryce was able to sit down with a patient collection employee at the clinic and figure out how much her surgery was going to cost her once her insurance went through. Even though the practice needed to double-check her deductible, she ended up paying part of her projected cost responsibility – $831 – before she even left the premises.

Cost estimations are powerful tools. According to the Healthcare Finance Management Association, pre-service estimations can help increase POS collections for those patients who can pay right away and improve patients’ understanding of their payment responsibilities before they receive their total bill.

3. Flexible self-service payment options
As consumers, most patients want options. Self service patient payment solutions can also help hospitals improve their collections. If patients are unable to pay for care at the POS or make a payment on an outstanding balance before they leave the hospital, providing them with more flexible options can ensure that when they are able to make a payment, they have the tools to do so.

Starting the conversation of payment while patients are in the hospital can encourage them to start thinking about their responsibilities. Offering them easy-to-use tools at the POS and when they get home can help them provide payments. When your hospital gives patients options and asks the right questions at the right times, your collections can improve.