Three Links Every Doctors Office Should Know
Eli Finkelstein, MD PhD 9/01/08
Abstract: ( Databases relevant to medical office management were evaluated. Accuracy of databases were tested and compared. The three most accurate and useful databases are presented along with tips on how to use them)
I give talks to physician groups about the value of the internet to their daily practice. As part of these talks I survey physicians on their use of the internet. Almost all use it for email and casual web surfing. Some use it for CME. But few physicians realize the true value of the internet to their bottom line, and their practice of medicine. The internet can help you practice better medicine, can streamline your front office, and can save you money. Internet resources can compromise your privacy if you don’t know they exist, or can help protect your privacy if you know how to use them. Internet resources can help identify physician practices with systematic problems with collections. They can even put money in your pocket. This article shows you how.
What happens to insurance company checks that never reach their destination or are never cashed? In most states there are laws that require unclaimed property to be turned over to the state for “safekeeping”. The intended recipient can reclaim their funds if they contact the state. But they have to know that this money exists in order to claim it. There is one official website that lists unclaimed property from 40 states. Searching this official website is free. There are thousands of websites that will charge you up to $70 per search to access this same database. Many of these pay sites advertise on internet search engines. The official free website is at Missing Money . This sites lists inactive bank accounts, unclaimed safe deposit boxes, unclaimed life insurance policies, utility deposit refunds, and unclaimed insurance company checks. A large percentage of this database is money owed to physicians. The money never reached the physicians because the check was mislabeled, or was mailed to the wrong address, or the check was not cashed in time. To get this money you need to go to this website. You need to search for your name, your group’s name, and every variant of your group’s name. You need to search for variants of your name because many checks never reached their destination because they errors in the name or address. For example if your group is Washington County Cardiology Associates, do searches for Cardiology, Washington County, and Associates. Also search every variant of your name. Include a search for your degree as the last name (i.e. MD, DO, DDS, DPM). You can limit the search to a specific state or a specific city.
You will need to submit paperwork to the state holding your funds. If you don’t want to do the paperwork, there are thousands of escheat services who charge a commission to recover your funds. There is no deadline for submitting the paperwork. Even your heirs can file claims. The fate of unclaimed assets depends on state law. The state of NJ assumes that only one fourth of unclaimed funds will be claimed. Thus three fourths of this money is deposited in the state general fund, and one fourth is held as a reserve against future claims.
If you don’t find your name or your groups name listed, congratulations. Your collection process is efficient. If the search turns up dozens of checks owed you, it is time to audit your collection process. You have a problem.
Unclaimed federal funds are a different matter. There is no single website which lists these. Each federal agency lists its unclaimed funds separately. You can find a listing of the federal sites at the US Gov't Site for Unclaimed Funds . Included in the federal site, are FHA insurance refunds. The National Taxpayer's Union has a searchable database of people owed IRS refunds.
Chances are your office spends many hours each week calling other physician offices to find the NPI number of referring physicians, or looking up phone numbers and addresses. Fortunately, there is a government website which lists all of this information. The US government has a searchable database of physician names, addresses, specialties, NPI, and UPIN numbers. This database is available to the public through the freedom of information act. No registration is required, anyone can access this information. It is a great resource for instantly finding physician information. It is located at the NPI Registry Site. You can register for an NPI number online, and update your profile. Thus the NPI registry is usually quite accurate. There are other physician databases that the US government posts online. These tend to be less accurate such as the Centers for Medicare Services Physician Database. A spot check of 100 physicians listed in both databases showed few errors in the NPI database, but showed a substantial error rate in the CMS database. The most common error related to physicians who had moved within the past few years. The NPI database listed the correct address, but the CMS database often listed the older, incorrect address, and phone number. Unfortunately, consumer services such as HealthGrades use the CMS database, so an error in the CMS database is replicated in many sites online.
The NPI Registry is a great resource, but there is an important caveat to this site. Some physicians have argued that this site promotes fraud. Anyone can access this site. Scam artists have used this site to contact physician offices, and pose as an insurance company. They request your tax ID number, and then use the information for identity theft, fraudulent Medicare, and Medicaid billing.
A further caveat is that some that our spot check of database accuracy revealed that some physicians have listed their home address and phone numbers as their billing address and phone number. It is easy for anyone to find out doctors private residences this way. It is important to check this site and make sure that your private information isn’t revealed.
Link Three: Alive or Deceased?
There is nothing more embarrassing than sending out a follow-up notice to a patient, only to find out that they have passed away. We all have an office employee assigned to the task of watching the obituaries so that we may keep track of these sad events. Ancestry.com has a free service where you can tell if someone has passed away, called the SSI Death Index. It is based on federal (US government) social security records. You can search by name and address, or social security number. This site lists every deceased person who was in the Social Security database. Some states have their own databases, such as California. A spot check of 100 deceased patients and deceased celebrities showed excellent accuracy of the SSI Death Index. Indeed we were only able to find one omission in the above database. (Marilyn Monroe was listed as deceased in the California database, but not the federal database). Thus according to the federal government, Elvis is dead. But Marilyn Monroe isn't.