Just as technology has a crucial role in driving our national economic recovery, on a smaller scale, independent practitioners can use it to boost their business finances and achieve long-term profitability, explains Kingsley Hollis.
After a turbulent couple of years, the Government has put its faith in technology to lead the UK economy back to health.
Speaking ahead of the first Treasury Connect Conference ‘to celebrate UK technology and expertise’ and boost investment in the sector, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that tech firms ‘have huge economic potential and will play a critical role in our future prosperity.’
The Chancellor was talking on a macroeconomic level, but the future prosperity of millions of ordinary businesses also depends on how well they utilise technology to operate efficiently, manage their income and seize the new opportunities that arise.
In common with all small to medium-sized enterprises, independent practices have faced a financial squeeze as a result of the pandemic, which will be reflected in their latest accounts.
However, we know they also showed their resilience, with many continuing to hold patient consultations remotely by video or phone, as well as using the enforced pause to focus on business projects such as updating their website and forward planning.
While the pandemic has caused setbacks, there are grounds for optimism compared to the position of a year ago, particularly the prospects for growth in the self-pay market.
A widely-reported survey of more than 4,000 adults by the charity Engage Britain found that one in five had funded their own private treatment rather than face a long wait to be seen by the NHS.
In addition, a report by analysts LaingBuisson predicted that the self-pay market would expand by 10-15% over the next three years, while Spire Healthcare’s latest half-year report (September 2021) show a 47% surge in self-funded patients from pre-pandemic levels.
Of course, an expanding market is good news for independent practices, but after a challenging period it is important to ensure that an increased level of activity actually translates into a healthier balance sheet and a positive experience for patients.
In an earlier article in this series, we looked at how technology can help you exceed patient’s expectations. This time, we’ll explain why having the right technology to manage your practice can make the difference between running a profitable business and running yourself into the ground.
Here are just some of the ways that practices can use technology to get financially fit for the future.
Invoice at the click of a button
One of the most common mistakes in business is celebrating an influx of new orders as if they were actually money in the bank.
You may be seeing more patients come through your practice, but if you don’t get paid, then your cash flow will inevitably dry up, leaving you unable to pay your own suppliers.
When it comes to invoicing, it pays to strike while the iron is hot – the longer you delay, the greater the risk the invoice will be rejected, as some insurers have a time limit for submission.
Plus, if a payer has a concern, it’s much easier to resolve it soon after the treatment has taken place when you are more likely to remember all the details.
An efficient and accurate invoicing operation for insured and self-funded patients is the single most important thing you can do for your practice finances and it almost goes without saying that electronic invoicing is faster, more accurate and secure than old-school paper invoices.
Healthcode’s technology enables you to create and send invoices to all the major private medical insurers (PMIs), self-funded patients and other payers such as solicitors and embassies:
Time-saving shortcuts in ePractice make it quick and easy to create accurate invoices.
For example, if you have treated a patient in a hospital setting, you can search for them on the system and generate an invoice with the correct patient and episode details already completed, thanks to our invoice auto-population feature. All you need to do is add your own fee from your pre-set schedule of prices.
Healthcode’s Clearing Service means you can submit invoices to all the major PMIs from one place. Each PMI invoice is automatically checked against the relevant PMI criteria, such as the correct procedure code and description.
Errors and anomalies are instantly flagged so they can be corrected and re-submitted and a status display shows that the invoice has been successfully submitted.
Online Payments via patientzone enables practitioners and clinics who are registered with patientzone to send electronic invoices to non-PMI payers such as self-funded patients and embassies, and provide the convenience of secure online payment. The latest version means users can also send shortfall letters, details of debt re-allocations and payment reminders.
A paper invoicing option is available in ePractice for when it is absolutely necessary. The invoice template ensures that these are clearly laid out and meet industry standards.
Mobile invoicing is available on the ePractice iOS app, enabling you to set up and send an electronic invoice from your phone or tablet while away from the office.
Payment tracking and collection
Bad debt and late payment are perennial problems for UK businesses in every sector causing cash-flow problems and even insolvencies, so it is essential to have an effective and efficient system for recording money received so you can focus on collecting outstanding invoices.
However, this process is not always straightforward for independent practices, as PMI payments may cover several invoices and there will sometimes be a shortfall amount to be re-allocated to the patient.
This is where a specialist practice management system can make the difference. It can record and reconcile payments so your accounts receivable are up to date. The payment tracking section of ePractice Lite and Pro makes it easy to find and allocate PMI payments to the correct invoices.
Where PMIs send electronic remittances (Bupa, AXA Health, Aviva, and Cigna), the system analyses the remittance advice and generates a summary that assigns the payment to one or more invoices for the user to then confirm.
For non-PMI payers, online payments via patientzone allows practitioners to set their account to send an email or text confirming an invoice has been paid. Their ePractice account is then automatically updated within 30 minutes so they can keep track of payments.
A practice management system can also re-allocate debts in the event of a shortfall and create a shortfall letter for the patient which automatically completes the invoice details and outstanding balance. Healthcode users who are registered with patientzone can send these shortfall letters and payment reminders electronically.
Without accurate financial data, it is impossible to manage credit control or to really understand a business’s strengths and weaknesses so you can make informed strategic decisions.
For practitioners who are simultaneously trying to attend to patients and run their practice, it is even more important to have access to real-time information in a format that enlightens rather than confuses.
Every practice management system should provide a range of real-time financial reporting options, so you can monitor your practice’s vital signs.
Healthcode’s ePractice includes more than 20 types of financial reports, all of which can be exported to other software so they can be anonymised and shared with your business adviser or accountant.
Here are five of the most frequently used:
- Aged debt analysis displays outstanding debt by patients and segments the debt by aged bands – for example: 0-30 days, 31-60 days, 61-90 days outstanding. It is an essential tool for credit control in any business.
- Outstanding invoices by payer shows all invoices with a current outstanding balance by payer type, including or excluding shortfalls. This makes it easy to see who requires a payment reminder.
- Invoice listing by payer provides a summary of invoices, by payer, for a requested date range. A filter allows you to view outstanding or settled invoices.
- The payment summary report shows the payments received, by invoice, within a selected date range. This enables you to keep track of what has been paid and the payment method used.
- Financial snapshot provides a snapshot for the selected period, including the total number of invoices with values for payments, refunds and debts. It also provides a total of the debt outstanding at the start and end of the period.
Independent practitioners have shown huge reserves of strength, determination and a readiness to adapt when tested during the pandemic.
But they will be keen to nurse their practice finances back to health amid continued uncertainty about infection rates and the imposition of tighter restrictions over winter.
The prospect of growth in the self-pay market is a welcome development, provided practices are able to reap the rewards. And while technology cannot change the weather, it does have an important role in helping to put businesses on a firm financial footing.
By making use of the invoicing, payment tracking and reporting functionality in ePractice, practitioners can ensure they are ready to profit from new opportunities.
Kingsley Hollis (right) is head of business development ePractice, Healthcode