Every growing business is faced with critical, make-or-buy decisions. Accounting, tax, customer service, office management, maintenance — at some point these functions suck up too much time and resources to be handled internally. They distract you from your company’s main task: delivering a valued service to customers.
That’s especially true for billing: Outsourcing your billing with the right partner will outperform in-house billing every time. That partner will collect more, cost less, maintain a higher level of compliance, and often provide better reporting and analysis.
Why? Because the right partner’s collection software is better than your collection software — even if you’re buying from a third-party software “specialist.” You’d like to think that buying from a third-party vendor will give you the best-performing software available. But that’s not the case. In fact, using a third party vendor can almost guarantee that you won’t have best-in-class collections. That might seem contradictory. After all, wouldn’t a software specialist strive to provide the best product out there? The answer is no. The specialist’s business model doesn’t work that way.
A company that bills in-house must do two things to maximize profit: 1) collect everything it’s entitled to; 2) be as efficient as possible – that is, minimize the number of billers in the department. To try to accomplish that, the firm purchases billing software from among the small group of vendors that specialize in ambulance billing software.
This is where the economics get interesting, and not necessarily in a good way. The third party software companies are similarly striving to maximize profitability, which turns the vendor-client relationship into a zero-sum game. That means the more you get, the less they get — and vice-versa. Some partnership. To enhance their own profitability, software companies have an incentive to minimize the efficiency of their own product and pay less attention to helping clients maximize collections.
And therein lies the rub that has cost ambulance companies millions over the years. The contemporary software model is to sell by the seat license. The more seats a software vendor sells, the more revenue it earns and the higher its long-term (forever) monthly support fee. That system has worked pretty well for Microsoft, a company never accused of being customer-centric. If a billing software company boosts efficiency, it will sell fewer seats. Even worse, increasing the software’s efficiency also increases its complexity, which in turn raises costs for development, implementation, training, and support. Overall, that’s a really bad deal for the software company — inflating costs to reduce revenue has never been a good long-term business strategy.
Somewhat perversely, the software company is similarly incentivized to resist helping its client improve collections. To improve collections requires developing and testing new modules, upgrading a working system, re-training billers, and adding support costs. As firms rarely like to upgrade their software, even less so if they have to pay for it, the upgrade cycle becomes difficult. And if conscience, competition, and pride force the vendor forward (damn those torpedoes), losing a client for making that effort will likely recalibrate the conscience instantly.
Why would you lose a client for doing good, you might ask? Change creates frustration at the client’s company, wherein the software company has to deal with the ire that comes with upending the daily routine of billers who benefit naught from the improved collections. That sometimes leads to complaints to the owner who, aware of his complete dependence on his billing manager, may utter something like, “If you don’t like our vendor, go find one you do like.” SURPRISE! The billing manager likes the one that doesn’t need or require continuous upgrades.
The solution is to find the “right” billing partner, meaning not just any billing partner. You’ll need to do a bit of digging. Take a look under the hood. Develop a set of requirements. The good news is that choosing is less subjective than you might think as it revolves around the technology in use – or rather, that technology’s origin.
For starters, any billing service that uses someone else’s technology is in the same position as the entity that bills in-house. In fact, this partner could underperform the in-house group because it’s savvy enough to know which claims are profitable to collect and which aren’t and may decide to focus on those that are profitable. It’s classic Low-Hanging Fruit Syndrome. If they use someone else’s software, remove them from your list.
Identifying the right partner begins with the right technology. You’ll recognize it if they own their own processing software and have made a long-term commitment to improving its efficiency and ability to maximize collections. You’ll know this is the case if:
- They have a staff of full-time programmers who work exclusively on this software. It’s a bonus if those programmers have a ton of experience with the company.
- They upgrade their software regularly (weekly) and every client receives the benefit of those upgrades.
- They can point to specific modules they have released in the last year that have improved collections or efficiency or both.
- They offer full transparency. In other words, the service allows the client to access the billing system 24/7, produce a list of claims on screen that represent every transport done for a specific date range, and enables the client to drill down into each claim and find out everything that was done to collect that claim.
Those capabilities are a healthy start. You’ll know you have a partner who shares your priorities and has committed resources to achieve them. And you’ll know you have a partner that does not fear transparency. They won’t be trying to hide anything.
But there’s more you can do. If your partner has large municipal clients, you’ll know it has the following qualifications as these are required by many municipalities:
- The firm has a solid IT infrastructure with good Disaster Recovery systems.
- The firm has been audited by independent external auditing firms that are experts in the field.
- The firm has audited, publicly available financial statements.
- The firm has SOC 1 Audit results, which are reports by external auditor who insure this company meets its contractual obligations.
- HIPAA and PHI breach data is publicly available.
References should be at the heart of any evaluation. While there are many companies that do ambulance billing, there are only a few that do it on a large scale. And in most cases, clients have moved from one of these top-tier companies to the other. Ask potential vendors to speak to clients that they have taken from competitors and then ask the clients about the circumstances under which they left. Who collected more, who responded better, how did their implementations compare, whose reporting was better? If one company’s name keeps popping up, and that company meets the criteria above, then maybe you’ve found the right partner.