Doctors getting flexible with payment arrangements

When the economy falls apart, doctors feel it, up close and personal. These days, with a vicious recession still lingering like a cloud over the country, physicians are finding that even prosperous patients can't pay their bills. And faced with this issue, many are finding ways to help, though payment arrangements, fee reductions and charity care--though others are taking a hard line and getting more aggressive with collections.

There's no doubt that patient patterns have changed, if recent data is any indication. A study by the Medical Group Management Association, for example, found big increases in the number of patients who skip appointments and a drop in the volume of patients who book preventive-care visits.

To address such issues, physicians are not only lowering or eliminating fees, they're trying out new approaches. For example, family physician H. Lee Adkins of Fort Myers, FL launched a low-end, $75-a-month concierge care plan entitling patients to a dozen visits per year, lab tests and several vaccinations as long as they sign a one-year contract, according to a report in the Washington Post. Others are creating long-term, interest-free payment plans for big fees, offering telephone services for free and staying open late to accommodate patients afraid to take time off from work for care.

Physicians say flexibility--and even charity care--is a form of enlightened self-interest. Not only does it help patients, it encourages patients to keep coming in at a time when they may postpone visits and reduce a practice's overall visits. Some doctors also argue that being flexible now helps keep patients loyal, which will pay off when they economy recovers.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this Washington Post piece