Getting your team on board

Does your team share your core values and vision?

In the fourth article in her series, Jane Braithwaite explores the engagement of your team in delivering the most positive patient experience for you patients. Every single interaction with your patient has an impact on their experience of your practice, either positive or negative.

It is vital that every member of your team who interacts with your patients is engaged and motivated to care for them in the manner that you believe delivers the most positive patient experience. But how do you ensure that everyone shares your vision, enthusiasm, passion and motivation? How do you communicate your goals to your team? Your vision, mission and values should be promoted via your website and other collateral for all team members and patients to view. Read more…

Cutting our ties to Europe and its red tape

Cutting our ties to Europe and its red tape

All of our attention is focussed on Covid-19, while quietly in the background we are still in the process of leaving the EU and cutting our ties to Europe its data protection jurisdiction.

In this second article published in the Independent Practitioner Today this month, Jane Braithwaite and Karen Heaton share what this means for your practice.

Cutting our ties to Europe

SIGNIFICANT CHANGES to the business environment are often outside the control of medical practice owners, and always involve some work for busy medical practice staff.

In our concluding article of the series, we are looking at what med- ical practices need to be thinking about as the UK exits the transition period in December 2020.

For changes involving the processing of personal data, those medical practices who have invested in bringing their operations in line with the EU’s General Data Protection (GDPR) regulations and have embedded a data privacy and security culture within their organisations will be in a position to respond faster and more efficiently to changes out- side their control, such as Brexit.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 and is now operating under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU. This agreement runs until 31 December 2020.

Unless there is an extension to the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK will either leave with or with out a future deal between the UK and the EU.

Will there be a deal?

As everyone knows, the negotiations on what the future relation- ship between the UK and the EU will look like were put underway before the pandemic. It may be some time before businesses understand what that relationship will be and what it might mean for data protection. Read more...

 

Download full article

 

Navigating the GDPR labyrinth

In the April issue of the Independent Practitioner Today Jane Braithwaite and Karen Heaton discuss GDPR and reveal medical practices did not properly understand whether they were required to ask patients for their consent for certain processing activities or how to do so.

Consent and GDPR

In the medical sense, ‘consent’ is very clear. But in the latest EU General Data Protections Regul­ations (GDPR), the question of consent has been one of the most confusing and frustrating issues to come to terms with.

How many emails did you receive in the run­ up to the GDPR deadline about ‘opt­ ins’ for mar­keting or just ‘opt­ ins’ in general?

Our experience is that medical practices and businesses in general really did not properly understand whether or not they were required to ask patients or clients for their consent for certain processing activities or how to do so.

On a personal level, it was a very useful opportunity to clear out unwanted junk email and compel organisations to take unsubscribe requests seriously. This had clearly not been the case in the past.

But were all these emails about consent necessary?

Well, that depends on a number of factors:

  • The lawful basis you have for processing an individual’s data;
  • How you received an individu­al’s data;
  • What you have told individuals – patients, clients or employees – about how your practice handles their personal data.

For medical practices who act as data controllers, there is the potential for non­trivial reputational damage and large fines from Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigations regard­ ing poor consent practises.

So, to answer this question, let’s look at:

a) Your lawful basis for using that data;
b) The data you process and how it is processed.

 

Download full article

Top reasons for data breaches

In the March publication of the Independent Practitioner Today, Jane writes about the data breaches; the reasons, and how to avoid them.

IN THE non-cyber category – that is to say, ‘human error’ – we have, as the main causes:

  • General breach of personal data – this will contain ‘blagging’ incidents and the accidental disclosure of personal data;
  • Data posted or faxed to incorrect recipient;
  • Data emailed to incorrect recipient;
  • Loss/theft of paperwork or data left in an insecure location. In the cyber category, we have the following main reasons for data breaches:
  • Phishing – emails with malicious links, malware;
  • Unauthorised access.In conclusion, it is errors by staff and employees that cause the majority of data breaches reported to the ICO.Poor data handling and data management are underlying causes for the data breaches reported to the ICO, whether these breaches are cyber or non-cyber.

Errors in the use of emails is a big factor behind data issues, where we see common problems such as:

  1. Emails sent to incorrect recipients.
  2. Emails with people pretend-ing to be someone else – ‘blagging’. Blagging occurs when someone poses as a trusted individual to obtain personal information from their victim or encourage the victim to perform actions, such as a bank transfer.
  3. Emails containing phishing and other scams and malware. Phishing is an attack used to steal data including login details and credit card details. The attacker will generally pose as a trusted entity and dupe the victim into responding to an email or text message.
  4. Emails with incorrect or wrong content and referencing of individuals. Read more…

Download the full article for full details.

Download

Ensure your callers can always get through

Jane Braithwaite’s contribution to the Independent Practitioner Today this month is all about the importance of answering calls to your private practice.

NOW THIS is a thorny subject for patients, medical secretaries and consultants alike. Here’s two common scenarios: ‘The patient says she couldn’t get through’. ‘She was a new patient. That’s like gold dust. We need to answer every call’. ‘I just received a complaint from a GP who couldn’t get through to refer a patient’.

How do we answer every call? Is that even possible? How many calls are being answered at your practice today? 50%? 90%? Can you measure this?

Call Answering

TOP TIPS TO AVOID MISSING A CALL

  • Own your phone number. Ensure you have a number for life
  • Measure it to manage it – Monthly reviews of our performance will ensure we continue to focus on this key element of practice management
  • Call audit – Address the reasons why patients are calling and look at ways to reduce the calls that are less productive
  • Technology solutions – Investigate the ways in which your phone system can support the process
  • Voicemail – Ensure messages are returned promptly
  • Appointment reminders – Ensure we include the address and details of how to find us. Ask patients to email to confirm not call
  • Online booking should be embraced by all
  • Call-answering bureaux/call centres – Can be used as a back-up option
  • Patient calls are vital and high priority. It is important to have a culture that treats them as such
  • I will leave you with the famous words of Blondie: ‘Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone.’

Read full article from the Independent Practitioner Today ‘Ensure callers can always get through’

Credit control and how to ensure you get paid

Credit control and how to ensure you get paid

chasing-money-large

 

TopTips2Invoicing and credit control is a time-consuming task in private practice, but it is essential for obvious reasons. Yet it is the area of practice management that is most often overlooked. Jane Braithwaite reports.

Many doctors and medical secretaries are highly focused on patient care, as they should be of course, and therefore billing and collecting the money becomes the lowest priority.

It is not natural for a doctor to switch conversation with a patient from their symptoms and care plan to payment.

Likewise, a medical secretary has often chosen to work in the field of healthcare due to a desire to care for patients and is less comfortable handling the billing side.

Private consultants can sometimes struggle with the contrast between private practice and working for the NHS. It can be difficult to feel comfortable charging for your medical services after years of NHS work, which is ‘free’ to patients.

Robust credit control

But managing payments and debts is crucial for any business and you will not thrive or grow as a private consultant without a robust credit control strategy from the outset.

In a bigger clinic or hospital, there is often a department that handles invoicing and billing. This team will often be more aligned with the finance team and this makes total sense. But in a smaller practice, billing must be handled by the secretarial team.

It is well reported in the business world that cash flow is king, especially in the first years of a new business. This is just as true for a consultant working in the private world as it is for a clinic or hospital.

Delays in receiving payment can put a great deal of strain on cash flow in a private medical practice and we need to ensure this is avoided.

Using good systems will help alleviate and automate much of the process relating to invoicing and collection. It is also key to define good processes and ensure the system is set up to support these processes.

Most private clinics will be invoicing both insurance companies and self-pay patients. They may also be invoicing embassies and legal companies.

You may already have a practice management software system in place, which could also handle billings, reminders and management accounts.

This could also make it much easier to comply with increasing requests from insurers to send billing information electronically using electronic data interchange.

Submitting invoices electronically will also speed up payment settlement, which should greatly help with credit control.

Electronic billing

chasing-moneyThe use of technology is imperative, particularly for invoicing insurance companies.

A good practice management system will link to Healthcode and allow electronic billing. All private doctors should be using this technology, as it ensures that insurance invoices are dealt with very quickly and smoothly.

A good practice management system will also ensure that invoicing self-pay patients is simple and easy.

Invoice templates can be created with pick lists of the most commonly used items. Invoices can be sent to patients via email or by post, if preferred, but I would use email as widely as possible to reduce costs and eliminate delays.

Insurance shortfalls

Shortfalls from insurance payments will need to be dealt with in the same way as self-pay patients. It seems that many aged debts are due to lack of transparency over insurance shortfalls.

Patients simply are not aware that their insurance will not cover the entire cost of the consultation, treatment or procedure. This could be remedied by improving communications with patients.

It might mean incorporating a short discussion about payment in the consultation itself, reworking the written information given to patients afterwards or even following up appointments with a short email to clarify information.

If you are sending invoices to embassies and law firms for medico-legal work, these will be created in the same way as for self-pay patients, but a greater focus on chasing for payment will be needed, as these invoices often take much longer to be paid.

My advice would be to attempt to build relationships with key contacts within the organisation to smooth the way.

Reconciliation

The next step in the invoicing process is to reconcile payments received against the invoices issued. If you are using electronic billing for insurance patients, this process will be easier for you.

Insurance companies will regularly send you remittance advice notes that need to be checked against the invoices on the system.

If self-pay patients are paying by credit card, the payments should be marked as paid on the day payment is made. There is nothing worse than chasing a patient for payment when they have already paid.

chasing-moneyBankers’ Automated Clearing Services (BACS) payments will need to be reconciled with bank statements and that is a harder task than it sounds.

Encourage patients to quote their invoice number when making a payment to ease the process.

Payments should be reconciled regularly so that you have an accurate picture of your current debt. I would suggest that a reconciliation is done at least weekly.

At the end of each month, a report of current debt should be produced and reviewed by key members of the team to identify and address issues early and therefore avoid that debt growing into a mountain of unpaid dues.

Credit control process

Each practice needs to define their credit control process. An invoice sent to an insurance company or self-pay patient may be paid promptly, but quite often this is not the case and the debt will need to be chased.

There will always be patients who do not pay on time and standard protocols to collect payment owed will need to be followed.

A robust monitoring system must be in place so that you can keep track of reminders sent. This can be managed within your practice management system.

A good practice management system will allow you to set up a process for chasing debt, but you will need to define the parameters. You can set up standard template letters to be sent after certain periods of time.

The time allowed may differ depending on your practice. You may feel that patients should be allowed a month to pay before receiving their first reminder.

This might be the case in a practice where you are seeing the patients regularly and have every confidence that they will pay at their next appointment. In another practice, you may want the reminder to be sent seven days after the initial invoice.

Reminder letters

You can set up a series of reminder letters to be sent by email to patients chasing their payment.

These letter templates must be created and while the first might be a very gentle reminder, the third reminder needs to be a little sterner.

Eventually, someone will need to pick up the phone to chase payment and that is not a task liked by most. If a patient is ignoring your letters, then a phone call may be just what is needed to prompt payment.

Again, you need to decide at what stage this occurs. Do you wait one month or three months before taking such a step? What feels right in your practice?

Debt collection

chasing-moneyThankfully, most patients do pay what is owed, but there will be a small percentage who ignore emails, letters and phone calls.

You need to be clear on how you will handle this. Are you happy to accept a certain percentage of non-payment and simply write this off? Or do you want to take this further and involve a debt collection agency. Obviously, this is a last resort, but one you will need to consider.

Whether you are running a large hospital or a small clinic, you have a choice whether to handle invoicing and credit management in-house or to outsource.

In-house billing and collection

Many consultants choose to handle credit control themselves when they first start out in private practice, in partnership with their medical secretary. This can be a workable solution while the practice builds, and needs to be scal­able once the practice becomes busier.

You may need to employ additional members of staff to manage the workload. You may employ a medical secretary and a billing specialist who are able to work closely together but have defined roles. As always, effective and clear procedures need to be in place from the very start.

It is imperative that administrative and financial processes are reviewed regularly and documented to avoid key person dependency. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where someone is sick and no one else knows how the systems and processes work.

There are a number of accountants who specialise in the private medical sector who could help with reviewing and recording your clinic procedures. And while this may seem expensive, it may turn out out to be a cost which repays the investment many times over.

Consultants and their secretaries often find chasing debts to be an uncomfortable task and not one that fits easily with the medical ethos.

You will need to ensure that you and your team stay informed about technological advances so that you and your patients can benefit from them.

On the positive side, handling invoicing in-house means that you have complete control and can feel comfortable that every communication with your patients is made by a member of your team.

Outsourcing invoicing

chasing-moneyMany consultants move their entire invoicing work to an external company, which will send invoices, liaise with insurers and chase payments.

Most of these companies charge a percentage fee for the invoices they process and collect on behalf of your practice.

They can also chase aged debts and provide a variety of management reports such as insurance breakdowns and bank reconciliation information.

Some firms have their own custom software for this, while others integrate with industry-standard practice management software.

The primary advantage to outsourcing billing and collection is that consultants can spend more time concentrating on developing the medical side of the business.

The downside is the additional cost, although this should be weighed against the potential savings outsourcing may provide. Consultants should also consider whether relationships with patients could be negatively impacted by moving invoicing to an external company. As always, communicating regularly with patients may help offset any problems.

Following the tips provided in this article may hopefully mean fewer debts are left to chase.

 

Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.

Download full article

April newsletter

Subscribe To Our Monthly Newsletter - Designated Digest

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!