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Understanding medical billing basics for financial success

Published: April 9, 2024 by Experian Health

Understanding medical billing basics for financial success

The ecosystem of healthcare revenue management involves the entire lifecycle of medical billing. It starts with patient scheduling to encounters, then moves to coding and medical billing. However, understanding the basics of medical billing isn’t just for the back-office team: it’s vital for front-office staff too, especially those dealing directly with patients. Many patients arrive with coverage from multiple payers and high deductibles, which makes claims and collections processes increasingly complex. Providers that get the billing basics right can deliver a better patient experience while setting themselves up for financial success.

Discover the key steps in the medical billing cycle and learn how healthcare providers can improve efficiency, streamline collections, and increase profits from appointment scheduling to payment completion.

What are medical billing basics?

Medical billing is about ensuring providers get paid for the services they provide, whether that be submitting claims to payers or invoices to patients. The workflow may be broken down into three phases:

  • Front-end medical billing: The process starts with patient intake and registration. During this process, staff collect relevant information about the patient, their coverage, and their diagnosis and treatment. They must know what payers require in terms of claims documentation so they can collect the right data upfront. At this time, staff will also inform patients of their financial responsibility, so patients are prepared for their upcoming bills, or can make payments before service.yr45
  • Back-end medical billing: This part of the cycle occurs after the encounter. Once it’s documented, medical coders and billers use information obtained during registration to figure out who pays what toward the final bill. Coding rules and documentation requirements vary considerably, depending on payer type (commercial, government or self-pay) and individual payer policies, so many organizations use automation and artificial intelligence to increase medical billing accuracy and minimize denials. These tools also support the claims adjudication process.
  • Patient collections: If there are any remaining balances after insurance reimbursement, healthcare organizations generate bills for patients. These detail the services provided, the amount already covered by insurance, and any outstanding balances owed by the patients. Increasing numbers of self-pay patients with high deductibles put new pressure on patient collections, and managing the workflow is challenging without technology, data and analytics. Healthcare organizations struggle to collect more than one-third of patient balances greater than $200, which makes understanding how to improve medical billing is essential.

What’s the relationship between the medical billing revenue cycle, successful billing and patient collections?

Within the medical billing revenue cycle, there are opportunities to maximize efficiency and accuracy, with tangible benefits for staff, patients, and those with an eye on profits. These opportunities rely on bridging the gaps between the three phases above with reliable data and integrated workflows. Some strategies and tools include:

  • Find missing coverage: Proactively identifying billable government and commercial coverage is a huge relief for patients, who won’t be billed for amounts that could be paid via alternative sources. Additionally, providers are more likely to be reimbursed. Coverage Discovery uses multiple proprietary databases to scan for missing or forgotten coverage throughout the patient journey. In 2023, this solution tracked down billable coverage in 32.1% of patient accounts, resulting in more than $25 million in previously unknown coverage.
  • Tailored payment options for patients: Providing upfront pre-service cost estimates for patients gives them clarity about what they’ll owe so they’re less likely to be shocked when they receive their bill, and are more likely to pay on time. Patient Payment Estimates generates quick, accurate pricing estimates along with a clear breakdown of how the costs have been calculated and secure links to instant payment methods.
  • Helping patients find financial assistance: From the first encounter, patient financial data can be interrogated to determine whether they may be eligible for financial assistance. Getting them on the right pathway from the start means they’re less likely to delay and default on bill payments.
  • Flexible payment plans: Research from Experian Health and PYMNTS shows patients are eager for flexible ways to pay. Rigid and protracted processes are inconvenient for patients and often end up multiplying medical debt, which is bad news all round. Simple self-service tools can meet patients where they are and help them manage their bills, whether they prefer to pay in full and up front, or they need to break it into more manageable instalments. This reduces payment delays and lessens the medical debt burden on all parties.
  • Streamlined, secure payments: PaymentSafe® accepts secure payments anywhere, anytime, using eChecking, debit or credit card, cash, check and recurring billing – all through a single, easy-to-use web tool. Every patient encounter becomes an opportunity to collect payments with minimal fuss.
  • Automated patient outreach: An easy win with automation is to issue appropriate reminders to patients about upcoming and overdue payments. Automated dialing and texting campaigns mean patients get relevant information through convenient channels, and staff can focus on more complex collections cases.
  • Strategic collections management: Segmenting and prioritizing collections accounts based on propensity to pay allows staff to spend their time where it matters most. Automation and data analytics can be used to route accounts to the correct pathway, resulting in a more compassionate patient experience, better use of resources, and increased collections overall.

Identifying inefficiencies in medical billing

To select and implement the above strategies and RCM medical billing solutions, it’s important to identify where inefficiencies and gaps are in the process. Some questions to consider are:

  • Are we relying too heavily on manual entry in our billing activities?
  • What are the root causes behind our medical billing errors?
  • Are our tracking and reporting efforts throughout the billing lifecycle?
  • How accurate are our payment estimates and eligibility verification processes?
  • Are our current payment acceptance practices and plans effective?
  • How successful and compassionate are our patient outreach efforts?

By assessing each area, providers can pinpoint opportunities to simplify the medical billing workflow and use revenue cycle management technology to accelerate collections.

Optimize patient collections with the Collections Optimization Manager

One specific example of how healthcare organizations can improve patient collections is with Collections Optimization Manager, which uses data analytics to manage the medical billing basics and customize collections strategies. The platform streamlines patient collections by screening out bankruptcies, deceased accounts, Medicaid and other charity eligibility, so staff don’t waste time chasing payments. Remaining accounts are grouped and routed to the most appropriate pathway, so they can be dealt with quickly and effectively.

Case study: See how St. Luke’s University Health used Collections Optimization Managerto collect an additional $1.2 million in average monthly collections,, in the midst of staffing shortages.

Explore more ways to use Collections Optimization Manager to streamline the medical billing basics and accelerate patient collections.

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