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Which patients will pay, which are time-wasters?
One question that members of Tallahassee (FL) Memorial's patient access department have struggled with is whether it makes sense to keep going after a person who simply has no resources, says Joan S. Braveman, director of patient access and financial services. The department installed software in August 2010 that gives customer service representatives the ability to look at how likely a patient is to pay.
"If they get a red light, that's basically saying, 'Do not even waste a moment. Just let it go through the process," says Braveman. "We are able to eliminate wasting time on people who are never going to pay."
If an uninsured patient gets a green code, however, staff members call them immediately to offer them the uninsured discount right away over the phone, says Braveman. "We can take checks and credit cards over the phone. They are going to pay, and it's just a matter of how quickly," she says. "The yellow-coded ones are where we are spending our energy, because those could go either way."
Braveman says initially, she was concerned about allowing a collectible account to slip through the cracks based on the system's information. "But for the one person in there who really would have paid when you called, we're still going to get paid," says Braveman. "As soon as they get a letter from a collection agency, they'll be on the phone to pay their bill."
Overall, registrars convey the message "We really are here to help you" over the phone lines, says Braveman. "I think the way we're doing it will help tremendously. We are getting the buy-in from patients."
Still, says Braveman, "We don't want the word on the street to be "Go to TMH and they won't ask you for money." "The message needs to be, 'TMH will work with you.'"