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Sharing and Storing Protected Health Information in Debt Collections

Published Saturday, April 20, 2013 7:00 am

Sharing and storing protected health information in debt collections

By Alan Holdren

We are asked by medical administrators and concerned doctors, “What can we do to help improve collections?” Here at Atlas Collections, the motto is: “Quality information leads to high recovery rates.” The caveat with this is the common apprehension about compliance with the Health Information and Portability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), along with basic privacy practices. No one wants to risk violations and sometimes, the cost is to you in the form of unpaid debt. Our established practices ensure that you have a good chance of recovering your dollars, provided you collect excellent data from your patients up front – without any worries over the security of your patients’ data.

What this means for a medical client is that you reduce financial risk by obtaining quality information from the beginning of your relationships with your patients. Although your primary focus is on providing medical care, you are wise to also think in terms of lending because in a sense, you are lending. You are extending credit to each patient for the portion of the bill that is not covered by insurance. And just as you collect complete information about the patient’s insurance provider, you also need to obtain thorough information about that patient and/or responsible party.

In addition to insurance information, ask your new patients for:

  • Their name (also that of the responsible party in cases of patients who are children)

  • Complete address (in addition to a post office box, everyone has a street address)

  • Cell phone, Home phone, and employer phone numbers

  • Social Security Number (if they trust you with their medical care, they can trust you with this)

  • Name, address and phone number of their place of employment

We know that folks can get skittish about sharing their social security number. Just remember that they would provide it to their bank because it is required to do business. You are doing business – your business is healing business – and you have the right to request this information. It is protected health information by the HIPAA, just as are diagnoses and treatments. And just as you protect this information in compliance with the HIPAA, we also comply with these same standards. You are not required to provide this information to us when you list an account with us, but it does help us to ensure that we reach out to the correct persons when it comes time to proceed with the collections process.

Once a bill has aged beyond its time in your accounts receivables, you’re ready to list the account with us. It is at this point when you determine the measure of information you will provide to us about this debt. As you consider your options you can rest assured that we have well-established procedures to protect the data you place in our care.

We are in a business associate arrangement with our medical clients, and comply with the HIPAA in our data retention and document storage. In addition, we follow the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which states that the designated records set can be shared between business associates as it relates to, “…past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual…and…that identifies an individual.” All documents are digitally stored and encrypted. In this way our service is an extension of your office and as such, we follow the same rules you do. All information we obtain is used to collect your debt and bring your money back to you. In the process, protected information remains protected, and everybody wins.

 
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"We have complete faith in Atlas Collections. Their commitment is obvious as well as their work ethic. What a great bunch of people to work with!"

Dr. Steve Farmer M.D., Lead Physician, American Health Network/Muncie