Financial Policies Lack Resolve
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Here we are once again, on the cusp of another New Year. Many of us lament the speed at which the last one passed, but resolve yet again to amend our lifestyles, to improve, to trim down, to bulk up, to eat better and to reduce stress. All of those meaningful life changes are important, but as you toast 2007 and resolve to lose the jiggle, commit to increase the jingle, specifically the jingle of cash in your accounts.
Start the New Year off with a solid financial policy. Next, make certain you assign the right person to implement the policy. Financial policies are only as effective as the person in charge of collections is at upholding them. Certain people just cannot bring themselves to ask for payment from patients no matter how low the fee. They simply are not cut out for the position. Effective collections require someone who is assertive, tactful, confident, and goal oriented. Nicole may be loyal, kind, and a wonderful member of the team, but entirely too pliable when it comes to collections. If Nicole is your only option, train her. If Meredith is better suited for the position, assign the responsibility to Meredith and train her.
A trained financial coordinator is well prepared and fully comfortable explaining to loyal patient Joe that, as a small business, the dental practice cannot extend long-term credit to him, even though he has been a patient for 10 years. This person is also consistent. She/he can resist the temptation to allow Mr. Jones to just slide by after he brings in a fresh batch of holiday cookies. Mrs. Smith, Mary Jane, and even the doctor’s tennis pal aren’t awarded any special exceptions either.
A well trained financial coordinator is prepared not only to politely and diplomatically educate the patient about what the practice cannot do, and more importantly, what it can and will do to help the patient proceed with necessary and desired treatment. Moreover, this person makes sure that patients are versed on their financial options well before treatment is scheduled.
She/he is at ease collecting at the time of service and requesting payment in full for procedures that are less than, for example $250. And for more costly procedures, this person can clearly explain the office’s payment options, which might include the following:
- Offering a slight adjustment in the fees, such as 5%, for higher dollar procedures paid in full.
- Partnering with a patient financing company, such as CareCredit in lieu of allowing patients to carry balances on their accounts.
This person is well aware of the advantages of treatment financing and can clearly explain the option to patients, as well as, answer any questions.
With a well-trained financial coordinator, you can expect many things, not the least of which is more money. But, like New Year’s resolutions, financial policies often fail because the practice doesn’t have the willpower to stick with them.
So as you welcome 2007, resolve to establish a financial policy that is clearly articulated and distributed in writing to patients. Resolve to ensure that your policy is implemented with expertise and finesse, by a trained collections coordinator. And finally, resolve to stay out of her/his way. Don’t undermine your own policy, or your collections staff, by engaging in financial negotiations with patients or making special exceptions here and there. Mr. Jones may make the very best holiday treats, but he’s expected to pay for his care within a reasonable amount of time, just like everyone else.
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Do You Have Tools In Your Toolbox?
A McKenzie Management Case Study
Dr. Ben Blacker- Case Study #64
My visit with Dr. Blacker started with dinner as we discussed his staffing concerns, the decline in the number of new patients, reduced collections and all the “typical” practice struggles.
As dinner progressed, I was formulating my opinion of Dr. Blacker as an employer and business owner. His ability to diagnose, prepare and restore teeth were not my focus. My goal was to improve his practice from a “business” aspect and give him the tools, in order, to be a better business owner and employer.
After analyzing computer-generated reports, reviewing patients’ clinical records and having lunch with the team, it was not difficult to discern that the staff’s “toolbox” needed new tools!
Dr. Blacker was a very likeable dentist, and he had a very loyal staff that had been with him for several years. They wanted the practice to do well because they respected their employer and took pride in their own work.
- The lack of computer dental software knowledge prohibited the Financial Coordinator from efficiently managing the unpaid insurance claims and past due account balances.
- The Schedule Coordinator was still scheduling in a “paper” appointment book. As a result, follow-up on cancelled appointments was impossible, finding a patient’s appointment was tedious and time consuming. The schedule was manually typed on an old typewriter that was collecting dust at the front desk, etc. I think you get the picture.
- The Hygiene Coordinator was a “rover” and spent more time cleaning instruments than she did managing the hygiene department. “Dr. Blacker said to make phone calls if I had time”, she commented. Amazing…she never had time!
- The doctor did not track any statistics for his practice. His only knowledge of the financial status of his “business” was that it was getting harder to meet payroll every two weeks. And, it was time for salary reviews again, darn it!
- # of new patients down 10%
- Gross production up 12%
- Net production up 5%
- Collections down 8%
- Overhead up 15%
Because Dr. Blacker had no tools in his “business” toolbox, he was not aware of this information, nor did he have any idea on how to get this information. He received a Profit and Loss statement every 3 months from his accountant, but did not know what the numbers actually meant to his practice in terms of “healthy”.
His struggling business staff did not have adequate tools in their toolbox to obtain this information either. Actually…they didn’t even have a toolbox to work from!
- Give each business team member their own personal toolbox that includes the software training necessary to manage their department efficiently and productively.
- Hire a dedicated Patient Coordinator to assure that the three hygienists are kept busy OR employ a sterilization assistant so the “rover” can dedicate herself to the task of Hygiene Coordinator so she can do her job.
- Conduct a monthly staff meeting and share the statistics with everyone. Talk about the positive and negative changes in the numbers and the causes.
Dr. Blacker had an overflowing “clinical” toolbox, overflowing with state-of-the-art equipment and supplies and the expertise to use these clinical tools. He also had the desire and attitude to want to OPEN his business toolbox; he just didn’t have the right tools inside.
Have you opened your business toolbox, or is it collecting cobwebs? Maybe you can’t even find it anymore!
Does your business team have a toolbox, and are the right tools available for them to work efficiently and productively for you? Don’t wait until they ask for “more tools”. They don’t know what they don’t know!
Call McKenzie Management and fill your respective toolboxes so you can increase your profitability and reduce your stress. Start thinking about starting your “retirement” toolbox!
If you would like more information on how McKenzie's Practice Enrichment Programs can help you IMPLEMENT proven strategies….. email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Be Prepared For The End of the Year or Beware
As you scramble to try to meet the ever-demanding needs of your “last minute” patients, try to keep a cool head and not go into lecture mode. Sending out the “use it or lose it” insurance letter helps, but there are still many patients who call and want to schedule the last week in December for work who, by average, have put off for 6 months to a year. “I have benefit dollars left to use.” “ I have money in my flex spending account and you know Dr. Goodtooth said I shouldn’t wait too long to get this done.” I just found out I won’t have insurance next year and there may be layoffs in my department in January.”
Of course we want to help. As a health care professional there’s a “call to arms” when patients want or need treatment immediately. By second nature you are a problem solver, so, here you are trying to think in the box and out of the box for ways to serve all of your patients and keep them from leaving the practice. Here are some things you can do to help alleviate the pre-holiday scheduling stress.
- Make a list of the patients who are demanding services at the end of the year and make notes on their respective records in the treatment planner or chart note area. When this patient comes in for recall, you will see the note and can address the potential problem at that time. If there is treatment that needs to be done, then explain to the patient that it has to be scheduled now, or by a certain date, to insure it will be completed to meet the end of the year deadlines.
- Determine whether the insurance plan pays on the seat date or the prep date. If you prep in December to use up benefits and seat in January, you will be in trouble if the insurance company calls and asks the date of the seat.
- Send out the letter that reminds patients to get their work done prior to November to avoid the end of the year mad rush. Also, inform patients of your intended time off during the months of November and December so that they can plan accordingly. Patients hate to be told in December that you are going to be closed at the end of the month for ten days.
- Hire extra help to improve customer service during busy times and to avoid overstressing your team. Remember, December marks the flu season and many people fall ill during this time of year.
- Prepare an ASAP list of patients willing to take last minute appointments should someone cancel.
- If you have an associate, determine what days you will need to cover for each other.
- Thank your patients for their loyalty this time of year by sending Holiday cards, or having an Open House Party. Or put together a special patient goody bag, or raffle off a basket of holiday cheer. Make hot spicy cider and decorate your office.
- Continue to inform patients that their insurance benefit plan is designed to “help” them get healthy, and that it is necessary and common to pay out of pocket for many services. Have them look at their tax situation to see if they would benefit by paying for services in this tax year versus next year.
- Make sure to plan ahead for coverage if the office will be closed down for several days, and prepare a post-op sheet with the directions to contact the doctor on call. Telling the patient when they make the appointment, and assuring them that they will be taken care of in a professional manner, helps instill confidence in your practice.
- Putting together a “temp cement” packet for patients in temporary crowns over the holidays is a good prevention for “that call” during the Holiday festivities.
Want help with any of these bullet points? We’ve got the answers in our Advanced Business Training for Front Office and Business Administrators. Start your new year off with solid footing and schedule your training today. Happy Holidays to All!
For more information on McKenzie's Advanced Training for Front Office and Office Managers, email email@example.com, call 1-877-777-6151 or visit our web-site at http://www.mckenziemgmt.com/
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