Benefits of Empowering Staff and Contractors Outweigh Risks

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One of the most important but overlooked keys to a quality experience for your referrers and patients is staff empowerment. This is particularly important if you outsource your billing.

Here’s one scenario: Your patient, Mrs. Jones, receives an invoice for a small amount, say under $20. It doesn’t matter who is to blame, what matters is how the situation is handled.

Mrs. calls the number on the invoice and starts a conversation with your billing department that goes something like this:

Billing: Hello, Acme Medical Imaging, this is Jane, how may I help you?

Jones: Hello. I just received a bill from you folks for $17 and I don’t know what it’s for.

Jones provides an account number, Jane reviews her record and sure enough, she owes the money due to a small balance from the original invoice.

Billing: Hello, Mrs. Jones, I just checked your records and it seems that you do have an outstanding balance of $17 because the original amount was not paid in full.

Jones: Well, that can’t be – I paid the original bill and I’m not paying any more. I’m already paying too much for insurance. I have a common name – maybe you’re getting me mixed up with some other Jones.

Billing: That’s not likely Mrs. Jones – we have systems in place to ensure that we don’t do that. When you wrote that check, maybe you got distracted or were looking at a different bill? Could that be it?

Jones: Well, I don’t know. All I know is I’m not paying it. So now what?

Billing: Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it. If you don’t pay the bill, you’ll keep getting these reminders for 60 days, then it will go to collection.

Jones: Oh, this is ridiculous. I don’t owe you this money and you can send it to collection or sue me, I don’t care. I’m never coming back and I’m calling Dr. Johnson (referring physician) to tell him about this.

Mrs. Jones hangs up and follows through on her promise to call Dr. Johnson. Then she goes online and posts a negative review of her entire experience, writing that everyone there was rude, even though she was treated very well until she got the bill.

That night, she tells her husband about the call. He just happens to have a friend who was headed to Acme in three days for an MRI, so he e-mails him to go somewhere else. Then his friend tells his wife and she e-mails her friend and, well, you get the idea. Now multiply this example by dozens.

All because you put your stake in the ground and demanded the $17.

If this sounds absurd, it is not – it actually happened several years ago to a respected east coast medical imaging practice with multiple locations.

The important part of Jane’s message was, “Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it.” Each member of your staff should have a clear and direct discussion about their boundaries. They should be encouraged to solve problems on their own without having to check with a supervisor and without fear that she will be reprimanded or fired if her actions were not strictly according to company policy. This is particularly true of an outsourced billing service because you probably have no clue as to what they are saying to your patients.

There is no downside to an empowerment program with clear boundaries. In fact, it’s all positive. Take the time to have empowerment discussions with anyone who interacts with patients and referrers. It’s priceless.


Steve SmithWith over 25 years of marketing experience — nine years as a former Vice President of Marketing for a leading healthcare marketing company — Steve Smith has consistently developed effective strategies to help fuel the growth of countless healthcare enterprises. Since 2007, he has specialized as a marketing and business development consultant to medical imaging facilities nationwide. Mr. Smith has been a featured speaker at imaging conferences and is a former member of the marketing subcommittee of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA). He has contributed marketing articles to numerous healthcare publications, including Physician’s Money Digest, Radiology Business Journal and more. Mr. Smith is the creator of “Ten Seconds to Great Customer Service™,” a medical imaging training program that provides easy-to-use tactical customer service support to staff.