My Patients Aren't Paying - Now What?!
Certainly, there can be many reasons why a patient delays or disregards their payment obligations. It's likely that the root causes of collection problems have been quietly chiseling away at many practices' financial footings since well before the recession. However, the current times have made the consequences of weak financial systems all more obvious.
Typically, we find that delinquent accounts are the result of a number of factors, including:
The practice sees a disproportionate number of emergency cases. These patients tend to be in a crisis situation before they will take action. They may suffer from dental phobia. Lower income adults may forego dental care for themselves in order to pay for care for their children, until there is a problem. Whatever the circumstances, all patients must be given the practice's financial policy and informed of the payment options up front.
Doctor routinely performs treatment that the patient did not expect. It is a dentist's responsibility to inform patients as to the treatment options available and risks associated with treatment. Part of that discussion involves the fees for recommended treatment and what is or is not covered by insurance. It is a thorough and detailed conversation to ensure that the patient is fully aware of his/her options and able to make an educated decision as to whether s/he wants to proceed.
The doctor rarely engages in treatment planning. Treatment planning enables the doctor to have a much clearer understanding of the patient's dental priorities and develop a plan for how those priorities can be addressed. Moreover, with treatment planning, the entire dental team can reinforce the need for care and continually educate the patient on why addressing dental needs is critical to maintaining overall health and wellness.
The practice does not have a trained financial coordinator. A trained financial coordinator is well prepared and comfortable explaining the financial policy and payment options to all patients. This person politely and diplomatically educates patients about what the practice cannot do, and most importantly, what it can and will do to help them proceed with necessary and desired treatment.
The practice sends out statements monthly. Statements must be sent daily. Additionally, it should include a practice-addressed envelope and a date by which payment is expected.
Even if all of the above issues are addressed, there will be some patients who do not pay. These are the delinquents - virtually every practice, except those demanding cash up front, occasionally has to chase down these financial greased pigs, some of whom can be more slippery than others.
Delinquent accounts must be addressed promptly, and the first follow-up phone calls should begin one day after the payment is due – not 60 days and definitely not 90 days later. As the weeks drift by, so do the chances of collecting on the account. Like it or not, you can't afford to let these accounts sit.
Follow a strategy for addressing delinquent accounts and avoid the tendency to just run down the names. Instead, focus first on those individuals that owe the most money and are most likely to pay. Those are the calls more likely to reap the greater collections successes. Be prepared before placing the call:
Every contact with every patient should be professional. I recommend this approach: “Our records indicate we have not received a payment for your account since (date). We wanted to make sure you received the statement.”
If the answer is “No,” state the balance: “The amount you owe from the treatment performed on (date) is (amount). I can take your Visa or MasterCard number now.” STOP TALKING. If they want to pay by check, verify address. “Let me go ahead and send another statement today, however, I need to know when we can expect your payment.”
Do not hang up until you get an exact date. Send statement now confirming promise of payment. If check is not received on promised date…CALL AGAIN!
Want more of me? Click here to visit my blog, The Lighter Side, for more Dental Practice Management info.
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