Be Careful What You Say!

The Quick Answer

The quick answer will get you every time!

You know, the patient asks you a question you quickly answer with an off-the-cuff answer. And then… realize…. “Oops…maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”

Too late now!

Be Careful What You Say!

Where are we going with this?

Invariably, questions fielded about billing in the field are best left to be answered by the billing office. Whether you have an in-house billing operation or you use an outsourcing company like Enhanced, your billing office is best equipped to answer patient billing questions.

We can’t tell you the number of times that patients have called to the office and say something to the effect of… “The EMT (or ‘ambulance driver’- yeah I know…ouch!) told me I wouldn’t have to pay anything for this transport and you sent me this bill.”

Other than a few people that split their time between billing office and the field, can anyone out in the field answer a billing question with 100% certainty? I think you know the answer and it’s a big, fat…NO!!!

So, where we’re going with this is to issue our sage word of advice and it is; Never answer a patient’s billing question in the back of an ambulance!

Once it’s said…it’s gospel…

Now, we’re not trying to be condescending here. You may have a fair amount of knowledge and time in this business and have the best of intentions. Maybe you’re trying to allay your patient’s fears and help calm the patient.

We get it.

But, once it’s said, to the patient, it’s gospel.

Think of it this way. You go to the hardware store and Handy Mike helps you choose what he tells you is the perfect paint color and mixes it up and tells you it’s on sale this week. When you get to the check-out line to pay for your gallon of paint, sweet Sure Sherry at the register tells you Handy Mike is wrong. The paint sale was last week. You argue your point, but Sure Sherry has the week’s newspaper advertisement tucked away next to her register and she points out that there is no paint sale this week.

How do you feel? Disappointed? Angry?

Of course you’re angry because Handy Mike told you one thing and Sure Sherry told you another….and they both work for the same hardware store.

Well, really when you think about this it’s the same thing that takes place when you represent one thing to a patient about their future EMS bill, but the billing office represents another fact (and the billing office is probably right.)

In the eyes of your patient, YOU were your EMS agency at the time and YOU represented the policy…albeit incorrectly. But, in the patient’s eyes what you said should count.

Subscriptions and Taxpayer Policies

Where we most frequently run into this is when we are talking with patients that have used an ambulance service that uses either a subscription/donation program and/or services that are supported by tax dollars funneled from the community and, in consideration of that person’s support (donation or tax) are able to forgive collecting for either co-pays and/or deductible amounts.

We can’t begin to tell you the numbers of times we ourselves have listened to well-intentioned EMS providers tell patients… “Don’t worry about the cost of the trip, your insurance will cover it and you won’t have to pay anything out of your own money.”

First off, no one- even the billing office, can ever be 100% sure an insurance company will pay a claim for an ambulance transport. Secondly, unless you set policy at your ambulance and you have a subscriber list or taxpayer list right there in the rig, there is no way you can definitively tell your patient that he/she will not owe any additional payment after insurance pays.

Kindly Refer…

When presented with questions about EMS billing, in the field, kindly refer the patient to contact the billing office to ask those specific questions. A good way to address billing questions during an EMS incident is to say something like… “Sir/Ma’am, my focus right now is to provide you with the best EMS care and transportation that I can. We have knowledgeable people in our billing office that will be glad to answer any questions you have after we are sure that you are okay.”

This is the most effective way to keep you and your EMS agency from making promises to a patient that you, your billing office, and ultimately your EMS agency are unable to keep.

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