Today more than ever, providers are recognizing the importance of patient relationships beyond and after clinical care delivery. At the same time, an increasing number of patients receive coverage under high-deductible health plans, which intensifies the pressure on providers to collect patient pay amounts in a timely manner and in full.

To further complicate matters, care delivery locations are growing in number. Satellite practices, urgent care clinics, freestanding ERs, and hospitals seem to be popping up on every street corner. Competition for patients is high, so healthcare providers and larger healthcare systems must maintain good relationships with their patients, even when a patient’s account has become delinquent or goes into default.

Patient relationship nurturing should continue — and even increase — when dealing with outstanding accounts.

Healthcare providers can build patient loyalty by treating every patient with respect and dignity regardless of their account status. This is particularly important when collecting a debt. What can providers do?

Keep patient satisfaction the primary goal, even after clinical care is complete

Whether you’re working with an outsourcing partner or handling revenue cycle management (RCM) in-house, a caring and compliant “bedside manner” from account representatives goes a long way, especially if an account has become past due. Compassionately and compliantly working with a patient to help them through what is often a difficult period, while also recovering monies, can set the tone for a lasting positive patient-provider relationship.

There’s no substitute for patients who remain loyal even when you’re trying to collect outstanding debt. Responsive and respectful interactions, education, patient advocacy, and treating all accounts equally pays dividends after patients’ financial troubles subside.

Closely monitor and manage your social media footprint

Social media is an empowering channel for consumers. Unfortunately, it has also become a public channel for patient complaints. Platforms such as Angie’s List, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be megaphones for unhappy patients. When this happens (it’s no longer “if”) it’s important to be prepared to work quickly and compliantly to address dissatisfaction through private communications channels. An experienced partner can help.

The growing competition for patients has raised patient pay experiences higher on the list of consideration when choosing a provider. If a hospital or practitioner becomes known for aggressive or non-compliant collections practices, or treating patients badly, social media can amplify the effects and do long-lasting damage to the organization’s reputation as well as the ability to grow the number of patients they care for.

More and more, leading providers are viewing the patient relationship as ongoing, regardless of clinical or account payment status. Today’s environment makes this challenging; with patients often bearing responsibility for a greater amount of the overall charges and providers, subsequently, bearing the risk of higher write-offs. The balance is a delicate one, but if providers remember to incorporate some soft-skilled clinical interaction strategies (and ensure any outsourcing partners are skilled at doing the same) they should be able to successfully maintain that balance.