Having an outside firm handle the financing may be better for you and your patients

We are often forced to go outside the box to increase patient-satisfaction levels. Without the assistance of savvy administrators, keeping up with the evolution of things can be difficult at best. The list of possibilities for improving patient satisfaction can be long—new computer systems, differentiating comfort lists, and recovery kits, to name a few.

But patient financing may be considered standard issue. Many practices find that most patients pay for procedures with a finance option such as a credit card.

However, the advantages of patient financing today may be greater than in the past. The use of patient financing can offer another value-added benefit to increase patient-satisfaction levels: It can allow practices to extend speedy, flexible, and seamless finance opportunities for patients.

Making Financing Work

It has been at least 2 decades since patient financing entered the marketplace, and the industry has seen many changes. In part, the source of these changes has been physicians, who have demanded more effective, user-friendly patient-financing options that can produce a strong cost-savings advantage for the practice.

Another factor is the medical industry’s push to deliver credible, quick, and efficient customer service. Large banks have also stepped in to help bolster the move toward external patient financing.

Perhaps most important, the impetus for patient financing has come from consumers. According to recent statistics, nearly 60% of patients are unable or unwilling to commit to treatment plans because of financial constraints.

With the multitude of medical financing options available for patients today— 0%–1% interest in the first year, approvals for those with diverse credit backgrounds, and speedy 24-hour pre-approvals—patient financing has become a “one-stop shop” where patients can receive the treatment that they are seeking. Let’s look at some of the major reasons why external medical financing can work for a practice.

Patient demand. Many credit card companies today provide 0%–1% interest options in the first year, but most patients who investigate cosmetic surgery have had their credit cards for more than 1 year. Although many patients may pay their balance in full before interest is charged, the chances are high that just as many extend their payments over the course of several months.

A medical financing company offers a separate credit tool. The finance company may well have lower interest rates than bank-issued credit cards, offering yet another benefit for patients. New York-based plastic surgeon David Rappaport, MD, notes, “At least 70% of our patients use credit cards to pay for their medical treatment. The percentage of those who use medical finance companies is much lower, but it is significant.”

Because patients are increasingly undergoing more than one procedure, a separate credit tool can produce an even greater reward. Considering that the objective of patient financing is to provide flexible plans for just about everyone, it might be safe to assume that increased patient-satisfaction levels would result by educating patients about patient financing within the practice.

As Diane Bark, patient coordinator at Minneapolis Plastic Surgery explains, “Patient financing has opened the opportunity for those who would not have otherwise pursued treatment. Approximately 15% of our patients work with a medical finance company.”

Ease of use. Because of their need to develop a more efficient billing system, many practices select medical finance companies for several reasons. More patients are requesting finance options. Internal management of paperwork and collection-agency follow-up can be time-consuming. Just as significantly, to extend medical finance company services in the past, staff members had to take a time-consuming training course that required ongoing support.

It may appear that personal communication between patient and physician is simplified without third-party involvement. However, medical finance companies today have streamlined the billing process. William Jervis, MD, has found that the medical finance company he uses at his Walnut Creek, Calif-based practice can easily sift through finance applications, and he notes that the staff is dedicated and that the process is quick.

Reduced fees. The payoff for using a medical finance company can be higher than ever before with the reduced fees currently charged by these companies. Years ago, the fee charged to practices for medical financing services was often prohibitively high. Today, the fee can be as low as 3% per case.

According to Anthony Youn, MD, of Rochester Hills, Mich, “The fee per case that we negotiated was one primary reason to incorporate the services of a medical finance company. We’ve also been able to trade off the impact of costs by offering a discount for cash payments.”

In fact, the move to external medical financing may actually reduce the practice’s staffing requirements. The time saved can range from less time processing paperwork, a reduced need for redundant data entry between software applications, and no need to follow up with collection agencies.

Reliability. Youn adds, “We selected a company backed by a large bank, and reliability has been fault-proof.” The availability of medical finance companies backed by large banks offers peace of mind to physicians. Finance companies today provide direct deposit of payments. They have also worked hard to secure endorsements from leading medical organizations.

Rapid response time. Incoming faxes with financial pre-approvals for new patients is appealing compared to internal processes that can potentially delay patient care. In fact, the pre-approval is often received in the office before the patient walks in the door. Patients can complete the application over the phone, online through the finance company’s Web site, or in the physician’s office. Responses can be generated in as little as a few minutes or at most 24 hours. “We simply provide the literature, schedule the surgery, and, typically, receive payment 1 week prior to surgery.” explains Cindi MacAskill, patient coordinator at Center for Beauty in San Diego.

High patient satisfaction. Increased patient satisfaction often equates to more word-of-mouth referrals and greater revenue. Simply put, the ability to address patient concerns about financing in a moment’s notice is highly desirable for patient and physician alike. The patient’s ability to complete his or her finance application in the practice can strengthen the physician–patient bond. The options to complete the application over the phone or through the medical finance company’s Web site can offer great convenience.

With such finance options as low or no application fee, no interest, no down payment, and no prepayment penalty, the number of ways that patients can be satisfied is even greater. Therefore, a practice’s ability  to understand patient needs, coupled with a savvy medical financing company, can only create a win–win solution. As Hailee Jacobson, patient coordinator at Premier Plastic Surgery in Salt Lake City, sums up, “Patients are very pleased to know that patient financing is available. We have seen that they are less concerned about the cost and are more willing to proceed with the procedure immediately.”

On the Plus Side

The good news is that reputable companies have brought patient financing out of the dark ages. However, you’ve got to know what to look for before you climb on board. Let’s review the pluses of patient financing:

• Medical finance companies backed by large banks offer reliability.

• The processing fee charged to the surgeon can be as little as 3% per case, which is less expensive than internal financing.

• Upfront payments are electronically deposited into the bank.

• Dedicated support requires no staff training within the practice.

• Simplified prescreening does not involve the practice.

• New-patient pre-approval forms may arrive at the practice before the patient does.

• Medical finance companies have taken strides to receive the support of medical organizations and large financial firms.

Many options are available today to turn patient financing into a simple, streamlined operation. Whichever medical financing company you end up choosing, it can potentially increase your bottom line. This holds true for the patient, who will appreciate the conveniences you can provide and who can refer more patients to your practice. It is also true for your office staff, who can turn patient financing over to the experts so that they are free to respond to your patients’ other needs. PSP

Lesley Ranft is a contributing writer for Plastic Surgery Products.