The New York Times reported yesterday that the federal government hopes to fix a problem that many citizens complain about: inaccurate health plan directories.  When health plan directories are incorrect, patients can wind up unintentionally receiving services out-of-network, which usually leads to unexpected, significant out-of-pocket costs.

The administration is naturally concerned about the impact of directory errors on patients, but out-of-date directories are a huge problem for medical practices, too.  Nobody wins when a patient who appears to be covered in-network is seen and treated, then winds up being out-of-network.  The practice often is paid less, and the patient may blame the practice for not catching the mistake.  At best, the patient is quietly disappointed. At worst, the patient shares that disappointment with others, via word-of-mouth or even publicly via a review or rating.

And besides out-of-network errors that everyone would like to avoid, there are bigger potential costs for practices when they’re not listed at all by a plan they participate in, or they’re listed with the wrong address, wrong specialty, or wrong status (i.e., accepting new patients or not).  When these errors occur — and they’re common — the directory is turning prospective patients away from your practice.

The New York AG tried to legislate a solution to the inaccurate insurance directory problem in its state back in 2012, but government intervention and even fines won’t likely cure it alone.  This is because maintaining directories is a very challenging task. That’s why large businesses have been formed to create, promote, and maintain directories (and even they often have trouble getting all entries right).  The fact that directories are a sideline of health plans, and not their core business, makes it even harder for them to perfect them, even though they have every incentive to get them right.

For these reasons, I urge every physician practice to take responsibility to verify and re-verify its listings with all of its health plans on a regular basis.  In my opinion, it’s the single most valuable marketing effort you can do for your practice — and it doesn’t cost a cent.  Many health plan directories even allow you to customize your profiles to draw attention to them.

I show you how to take control of your directory listings — both health plan directories and physician reviews and ratings directories — in “The Quick Guide to Online Physician Reputation Management.”  This step-by-step guide will allow you (or a staff member) to quickly master the process of managing directory listings — and ensure you can be found by the right patients, right when they need you.  (It’s just $6.99, but you can check out a free sample at Amazon to see for yourself before buying.)  Or if you don’t have the Kindle software or a Kindle device, you can buy the book in PDF form at Gumroad.