Poor practice data will cost you a lot
Are your financial records really up to date? Simon Brignall warns that many consultants need to check to ensure the paperwork meets your current needs
CONSULTANTS MUST wear many hats these days to run a successful modern private practice.
Managing the various aspects can prove to be ever more challenging and I often find they have difficulty in ensuring all their financial and pricing records are current.
As director of business development at Medical Billing and Collec-tion, I have seen many practices experience a wide variety of difficulties in these areas.
And that can lead to:
- Issues around cash flow;
- Losses of income;
- Problems with the taxman.
Nowadays, consultants need to provide information about their practice across a wide range of sources. The need for this data to be readily available to patients across a variety of platforms means it is very easy to lose track of where this data is stored.
Most consultants have a Bupa profile as well as having a biography page on the websites of each of the hospital and clinic locations where they practice.
Some specialists choose to use third-party portals to find patients as well as promoting their services
through their own website. There is also the requirement to supply information about the practice, including fees, to the Private Health-care Information Network (PHIN).
It is important to check that all this information is consistent and up to date across these various sources.
You should include:
- All the locations where you can be seen;
- Your contact information;
- Pricing policy;
- Payment options.
This review process should also be an ideal opportunity to revisit your pricing structure.
Your pricing structure needs to be clear to your patients and to the person whose task it is within the practice to raise the billing. In our experience, lack of clarity around your pricing policy can lead to patient dissatisfaction.
It can also mean that invoices are raised incorrectly, resulting in problems with insurance companies and even losses of income. Transparency around pricing ensures your patients are aware of the costs they will incur from the start and so disputes are less likely.
Patient registration forms
It is good practice to confirm with your patients your pricing policy before treatment starts.
You should also make them aware of their responsibility for any liability to avoid any ambiguity should their insurance policy not cover all the treatment costs.
For pricing in a commercial environment, the terms and conditions describe how the company will conduct its business with its clients and typically form part of a commercial contract.
In private healthcare, and particularly for consultants, the patient registration form is typically where this area is covered. It is a good idea that your registration form includes wording stating that the patient is liable for any costs incurred as a result of not being covered by their insurer.
In our experience, when a patient has private health insurance, many of them immediately think that all the costs of the treatment are covered. But, of course, in many cases there can be an additional cost element that the patient will be required to pay.
“A practice should be able to produce accurate reports that show the total invoices raised, payments received and their aged debt for a given tax period”
Most patients have private health insurance through their employers and, as such, most of them are unaware of the small print of their own policies, which may leave them with an outstanding balance.
This can be for many reasons and the main ones are:
- They could have an excess or shortfall under the terms of the insurance policy;
- They could have exceeded the benefit limit of the policy;
- They could have a policy which is called co-share, where they are required to pay a percentage of each invoice.
The patient registration form should also inform the patient if the practice has any other commercial terms, such as charging for DNA (Did Not Attend) consultations or where they have not been cancelled within set time limits.
Raising an invoice
Patient registration forms also allow the practice to obtain all the relevant patient information to ensure an invoice can be raised promptly.
This will include a patient’s date of birth, contact details and insurance information, when applicable. These days, it should always cover mobile number and email address, so you have the best chance of contacting the patient if they have a shortfall to pay.
All successful practices realise how important it is to obtain all this information up front to negate the need to chase patients after treatment, which can be both problematic and time-consuming.
Missing data can cause invoices to be rejected by insurers, delays in invoicing and lead to difficulties in chasing patients for payment. This can all result in a practice’s aged debt mounting up and often means that a consultant ends up being owed tens of thousands of pounds.
At Medical Billing and Collection, our billing procedures immediately highlight when this important data is missing. We then seek to resolve the problem either through internal investigation, when possible, or by notifying the practice immediately what information we require.
As with most matters related to billing, the quicker you identify the problem the more likely you are to resolve it.
Nobody enjoys paying the taxman, but quite often this can be made even more onerous because of difficulties in providing accurate financial information to your accountant.
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is in the process of transitioning towards quarterly reporting as part of its Make Tax Digital initiative which is currently scheduled to become mandatory in April 2020.
This will require the submission of income data on a quarterly basis rather than the current system allowing this to be done at the accounting year-end.
HMRC says this will enable more accurate projection of tax due. But considering the number of inquiries we have from consultants when their tax is due, I think it is fair to assume that many will find this challenging without having the appropriate data to hand at the touch of a button.
It is well known that HMRC targets private consultants, as there is a perception that their recordkeeping is not always as thorough as they would like. Tax investigations are far from enjoyable, as anyone who has had to go through this process will attest.
A request by your accountant to improve the quality of the financial information you provide them can be one of the most common reasons a doctor reaches out to us.
A practice should be able to produce accurate reports that show the total invoices raised, payments received and their aged debt for a given tax period. At Medical Billing and Collection, we can supply all these reports directly to our client or their accountant, which gives our consultants peace of mind.
would suggest there is no time like the present to review all the financial records you keep for your practice.
Check to see that they are up to date and meet your current needs; highlight any areas of concern and then put steps in place to address these.
If all of this is just adding to your workload or you feel you would like to speak to an expert, then one simple solution might be to seek assistance from a professional medical billing company.
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