It’s almost that time again: deductibles re-set in less than a month. Got your game face on?

For many practices, the end of the year is so busy, it’s hard to think about planning for slow business in January, February and March.  Ironically, the cause of the busyness in Q4 is related to the cause of slower demand in January: deductibles. At year end, patients are eager to bring any known problems or elective procedures in to practices, because their deductibles have been met or nearly so; in January, many patients delay care because their deductibles re-set to their original amounts (or even higher amounts in many cases).

It may also seem like there’s little you can do to deal with the deductible re-set. But you do have options, and making even a small dent in the downturn can make a big difference in overall profitability. So isn’t it worth trying?

If you’re in a pediatrics, adult primary care, or OB/GYN practice, of course one of the best steps you can take to smooth your revenue is to let patients know you have availability for preventive services in the beginning of the year. Let them know that your practice may be less crowded (barring, of course, a wave of flu or another virus coming through your neck of the woods).  Make sure patients are aware that preventive services usually come with no copayment or deductible.  (It can be helpful to create a list of common tests and vaccines that are preventive per the USPSTF, to avoid confusion.)

Here’s where your EHR can shine: use list-generating capabilities to identify patients that are due for preventive services, or who have chronic conditions are overdue for a regular visit.  For example, it’s usually easy to isolate healthy patients you rarely see that are overdue for pap smears, hepatitis screening or check-ups. Tapping your system a little more creatively, you can identify patients that have just crossed a threshold to qualifying for a preventive service such as herpes zoster, pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine or cancer screening. Patients that turned 65 in 2015 may also be identified and offered an appointment for a Medicare ‘welcome’ visit and exam.  Getting a bit more analytical still, you should be able to isolate patients by chronic condition and last visit date, to build a list of patients overdue for follow-up care. (If these multiple variable queries aren’t easy to do with your EHR, your vendor should be able to provide support — or check to see if an online user group exists for your system.)

Specialties that offer preventive services (e.g., mammography, colonoscopy) can partner up with primary care practices to offer preventive screenings to patients that are overdue.

Besides outreach to fill empty spots on your appointment schedules, now is the time to also prepare refresher training for your schedulers and front desk, to be sure everyone has what they need to respond to patient questions and help patients understand their health plans. Patients who fulfilled their deductibles in the previous year may have forgotten what is covered and what isn’t, how their copays work, and the need to pay at the time of service when the deductible applies. If January will be slow, that can also be a great time to implement new technology, such as real-time estimators and pre-auth software — but if you’re looking for a demo and implementation help, it’s a good idea to reach out to vendors now, because many practices will have the same idea. You’ll want to be sure you’re in the pipeline as early as possible in 2016.

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