Jim Devitt and Nathalie Gallett of TransWorld Systems

Editor’s Note: The following article is by Jim Devitt, MS, and Nathalie Gallett, CHFP, of TransWorld Systems, a national collection agency, and is based in part on a recent session presented at last month’s Healthcare Financial Management Association’s annual leadership conference (HFMA ANI2012).

In these tough economic times, patient collections have increasingly become a larger challenge to healthcare organizations due to higher deductibles and fewer insured patients. These organizations are turning to the patient responsibilities as an area with the highest upside. Fractional changes in collections can make or break the month. In this article, we will uncover a hidden gem, a simple technique to make the most of patient/collector communication, the “Vision Moment Pause.”

Over the years, the revenue cycle process has become streamlined and scripted to maximize results. There are many examples of call models and most agree on the following basic formula:

The Opening. This is a stepwise process to identify the patient, then yourself and your facility and isolate the purpose of the call. The collector will request a Payment in Full (PIF.)

Acquire Information. If the patient does not provide PIF, the collector will move into an information acquisition phase.

Negotiation. This is where the collector will restate the case for PIF and if unsuccessful, get a commitment for an initial payment. Following the commitment, the collector will work out a plan for the balance and reinforce the call to action for the overall call.

The Close. Finally, the collector will recap the arrangement and get patient agreement. As always, the call will end with a thank you to the patient.

The above flow is a typical call model. Most healthcare organizations have some form of this embedded into its policies and procedures. Today, we’ll focus on adding one slight variation to the call model, the Vision Moment Pause.

After the initial request for PIF in the opening sequence, add a 2- to 4-second pause. Human nature is such that people do not like silence in a conversation. This intentional break in the script creates an amazing opportunity for a collector — the opportunity to listen and to focus on the patient.

During the pause, the collector must avoid multi-tasking and “be present” with the patient. When the patient begins to speak to fill the silence, the collector may ask clarifying questions, but must not interrupt the patient. Active listening is the key to helping the patient resolve what is for them an emotional situation.

By actively listening to the patient, the collector helps to remove the isolation that the patient feels. It is an opportunity for the collector to show empathy and to let the patient know that the collector, and by extension the healthcare organization, understands how they feel. When a patient grasps that the collector has helped others in the same position, they will have more confidence in the collector’s ability to help them.

A simple pause, and how the collector handles it, can change how the patient feels about the organization. Take time to implement this minor change and you will see increased collections, increased number of payments and greater patient satisfaction.