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Patience Wins in Medical Collections

  • Written by Joshua Fluegel

Hospitals and medical professionals find themselves in a complicated situation as a simple dunning is rarely the answer in medical debt collection. Medical debt normally finds consumers at their weakest. Therefore maintaining a civil yet business-minded approach is paramount to maintain patients. This is where medical professionals reach out to collection professionals for the delicate and patient touch required. Collection Advisor spoke with Jason Meyer, CEO of Frost-Arnett, about what strategies he currently finds effective and how a collection agency can achieve maximum recovery with maintaining the patient experience.

Tell us how you came to be involved in collections.

meyer jasonI spent 20 years as a CPA, consultant and investment banker. In early 2015 the opportunity to join Frost-Arnett presented itself as George Buck, our president at the time, made it known he wanted to give up management responsibilities by the end of 2016. I had consulted and advised hundreds of companies through the years in many different industries and at various stages of their lifecycle. To bring the culmination of that knowledge to a well-established company with a great reputation in an interesting market was too exciting of an opportunity to refuse.

What do you do to keep your collectors motivated and happy?

At Frost-Arnett, we believe that our people are our greatest asset. We also know that if they are engaged, then they will be more productive, there will be fewer turnovers and they will be a more positive influence on their colleagues. These are some examples of how we try to keep our employees engaged and motivated:

• We provide one of the most generous paid time-off policies in the industry.
• 401(k) company match program.
• Corporate-sponsored quarterly luncheons.
• Corporate-sponsored Employee Appreciation Day.
• Spirit days.
• Helping Hands Fund (employee emergency support).
• Collector of the Month Award.
• Employee of the Year Award.
• Annual employee engagement/satisfaction survey.
• Upgraded facilities.
• Employee Assistance Program.
• Quarterly birthday celebrations.
• Flexible hours.

How does a collection agency present itself as trustworthy to clients?

Trust is something that is easily said but is hard to prove. It is built over time by making many small decisions while keeping in mind the longterm good of the client relationship. If you consistently do what is right for your clients, then they, in turn, are willing to provide positive referrals to other potential clients, and the cycle continues. Since the inception of the company, we have prided ourselves on operating ethically and morally – always choosing the hard right over the easy wrong. Are we perfect? No, but I’m comfortable saying that trustworthiness is our most important value. Our extended success would not have been possible without each generation carrying that forward. It’s really something that we instill from the first day an employee joins our company: do the right thing, treat others as you would like to be treated, and the rest will work itself out.

Besides compliance, what is something an agency might do that would be detrimental to its medical collection practice?

Medical debt is different than other types of debt. Nobody plans to get sick, and medical debt occurs out of necessity. Often patients are in pain and trying to get their lives back in order. Agencies that work medical debt need to keep that in mind. Pushing to get the extra dollar is not always the most important thing to a healthcare provider client. They want to balance maximum recovery with maintaining the patient experience. They want their patients to continue to return to their offices. If an agency is overly aggressive in their practices, they can damage the provider’s brand.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently in collections?

I would ensure that we had multiple contacts at our large clients. We have had a few client losses over the years that we could tie back to a change in management at the client beyond where our relationship(s) presided. I think your company is better off having as many touchpoints as possible, at all levels (A/R manager to Director of Rev Cycle to CFO) with a client. You can never predict change, but the more contacts you have with a client, the more likely you are to keep that client when change inevitably occurs.

What is a development you would like to see in medical collection technology?

I would like to see seamless information transfer. One of the biggest challenges we face is ensuring that we are getting accurate and timely information from our clients. Historically, healthcare providers have focused on the clinical side of the house, often to the detriment of their financial and technology areas. As a result, a large portion of the healthcare world is just catching up on the investments needed to make these areas effective. For example, we still have clients that give us files in paper form, which we have to input into our system manually. While this is becoming rare, it shows where investment in these critical areas has been on providers’ priority scale. It is imperative, especially given some of the regulatory changes that are coming down the pipe from Washington DC, that providers get their agencies detailed, timely and accurate information.

What is a piece of advice you would offer an agency considering medical collections?

Be patient. The sales cycle in the medical world is extremely long. New relationships take a long time to develop, and often you are trying to displace an agency that has been working with the provider for decades. Inertia in the healthcare world is a difficult thing to overcome and typically, unless there is a major issue with their current agency, providers do not have a sense of urgency to change vendors given the time and cost of switching.

frost arnettHow is Frost-Arnett involved in the community?

Frost-Arnett has always had a large community outreach and charity program. Our employees take pride in being associated with and contributing to a company that tries to help out and better the communities in which we live and work. Some examples of the charities we are involved with include: The American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Hospital Hospitality House of Nashville, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Salvation Army, Susan G. Komen, Operation Christmas Child, Second Harvest Food Bank, Toys for Tots, Wounded Warrior Project and the YMCA.

What do you do to optimize upper management’s performance?

We empower our senior management team to run their department as if it were their own company within Frost-Arnett. It starts with a series of meetings with each senior manager to set goals for their department for the upcoming year. They outline their objectives, development goals, hiring goals and capital spending needs. We then incorporate that information into detailed monthly and quarterly P&L [profit and loss] statements with Key Performance Indicator (KPI) targets. These financial and performance goals help measure senior managers’ performance throughout the year.

We recognize this is a dynamic business and things change throughout the year. As such, we follow up through individual quarterly meetings to see how their department is performing versus their targets goals. If they need to revise an existing goal, we incorporate that information into the remaining P&L and KPI goals for that year. At the end of the year, we then do a comprehensive evaluation of their performance versus the original and/or updated plan, and the process starts over as they plan for the next year. We want them always to keep an eye on the big picture and know that it is critical to have everyone focused on the longterm plan. This is why we have consistent checkpoints along the way so that they do not get bogged down in the daily grind.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy spending time with my family, playing golf, skiing, researching investment ideas and reading.