Closing the Gap in Collections
Do you suffer heart palpitations when it comes to collecting for dental services? Do you think your fees are too high or that dentistry is expensive? If you are a dentist and answered yes to either of these questions, then stay away from the business area of the practice when the subject of payment comes up.
It is important to separate professional services from financial operations. That doesn’t mean that you don’t understand the process of collecting or that you don’t know how much you charge. It means that you have a standard protocol response that says “Betty is my business coordinator and I leave the discussion of financial arrangements to her. She is very knowledgeable about dental insurance and the payment options we can offer.”
The dentist can easily be drawn into giving discounts to patients if feeling pressured, especially if the dentist is a “feeling type” in temperament. To ensure smooth and profitable collections, getting your agreement in writing is imperative. Have a clear and written financial policy that can be explained on one page. Specifics should be clear, such as when is payment expected (before or after treatment) and that co-pays are collected at the time of service. Are reductions in fees offered, such as fees over $1000 paid with check or cash at the time of service get a 5% reduction in fee?
Defining who is responsible for payment before services are rendered prevents misunderstandings. For instance, some young adults may think that the parents are still covering them, only to find out it is not true and they do not have the means to pay for their treatment. The same goes for some elderly patients who may have a trust that a family member or executor has control over and requires approval prior to treatment.
It is a red flag if a patient does not ask you what the treatment is going to cost and makes an appointment. There is an assumption present that this patient will pay regardless of the cost, but that is not the case. This patient will set the terms of how and when s/he will pay. Often the scenario goes like this: “I will give you $100 today and will pay you $50 in a month.” If treatment is complete, it is very difficult to have any leverage in this arrangement.
Insurance estimating can be a gamble, especially if the patient wants an exact amount of reimbursement. Out of network providers have a more difficult time giving an estimate. In-network providers are given a PPO Provider Fee Schedule to estimate from, and do not charge more that the allowable fees. It is important to include a disclaimer on your financial option sheet that states: “This estimate is based upon the information provided to our office by you and by your insurance plan. Limitations and exclusions may exist that have not been disclosed by your benefits administrator. If for any reason your plan does not pay for any services, you are responsible for payment in full.”
In a perfect world, presenting treatment and discussing financial options in private without interruptions of other patients, phone calls and staff is the ideal. Financial matters are very personal, so being discreet is the professional and courteous thing to do. The person who presents financial options and asks for payment should be polite but firm in his/her approach. Being able to connect with the patient and to build rapport is part of this process. This person should not be afraid to ask for money and also understand the value of quality dental care and the long term health value.
For patients who want monthly payments, CareCredit is the answer. Having the applications and rate charts in arms reach is a great way to increase treatment acceptance and get paid in full when treatment starts. The patient is then responsible to pay monthly payments to the bank, and you have been paid. It is a winning situation for all concerned.
Want to learn how to establish financial options and payment plans for your patients? Call McKenzie Management today to sign up for business training.
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