As we near the end of the year (fiscal year for many of us), now is the time to evaluate the effectiveness of your medical debt collection partners.
This should be a once-a-year routine, and we suggest that you follow the old maxim we learned as children before crossing the street — Stop, Look, and Listen.
Odds are that you are in in the midst of your budget cycle or just finishing it. In the lull between now and the holidays is a perfect time to evaluate your relationship with your collections partner. Any agency worth its salt will expect you to take the stock of your professional relationship at least once a year.
First, analyze the performance of your collection partners over the course of the year. Have they met your expectations? Did you establish those expectations in advance? This is your opportunity to bring your relationship into focus, especially if you have in past years been vague about your demands on your partner.
Now is the time for you to identify and establish the metrics you expect your collections partner to achieve for the next year. The more specific your expectations, the better direction they will have to follow. As the old saw goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Most agencies want to know what is expected of them, and by the same token, without strong metrics, those agencies that are less professional will find it easier to take advantage of you.
Don’t go into the next year with a telephone call. This is the time for a face-to-face with your collection partners. Either schedule visits to have them come in to meet with your, or even better, schedule a time for you to visit and tour their facilities. If you haven’t traveled to where they are you will be surprised by how much you learn with a site visit.
If you bring them into your office, be certain to communicate in advance what reporting data you wish them to bring, and what supporting documentation you expect to see. It is also very important to create an agenda well in advance so everyone knows what is expected of them. If you don’t, you may find your partner is unprepared and that will waste everyone’s time.
The truth is you are not meeting with your partner to lay down the law. The most successful relationships between provider and collection agency are those where both parties are careful listeners. Here are some areas where it is vital you keep your ears open:
Are they compliant? Every year there is some change in medical collections regulations or laws. For example, this year the IRS is considering the imposition of a 120-day waiting period before patients who may qualify for charity care can have their debt reported to a collection agency. Is your collection partner aware of the new regulation, and what are their plans to address it?
Are they following scripts? This is a good time to actually listen to your partner’s staff as they make collection calls. Are they following the scripts that you and your partner have agreed upon? Also, are they being properly supervised, with spot checks by supervisors to make certain they are following the course you have set for them?
What do they think will improve the business relationship? Your collection partner will most likely work with numerous providers. If they know their business, they will be able to give you feedback on how best to improve the relationship. The very best providers are those who listen as much as tell. Take advantage of their expertise, and built their feedback into demonstrable metrics for the following year.
Once you have stopped, looked, and listened, proceed with the next year’s work. If you make this an annual occurrence, you should see an increase in your collections and in patient satisfaction, or failing that, the justification to find new collection partners.