Written by Sally McKenzie, CMC Thursday, 28 February 2002 19:00
Except for the occasional diehard who’s still hanging on to the “paper” practice for old times’ sake, dentists today have clearly gone digital. As a result, my purpose here is not to talk you into the merits of technology, but rather to remind you how easy it is to cash in on some of the financial bells and whistles you might find on your practice management software.
OVER-THE-COUNTER COLLECTION: CLICKING FOR CASH
There was a time when asking for money at checkout was like whispering into a wind tunnel. The business assistant had no clue as to what treatment was rendered, nor the fees connected with that or any other procedure. She had no way to recap services performed that day, nor could she confirm with the patient what part of the treatment plan had been completed and needed to be paid for, or what remained to be scheduled. Her appeal for money, therefore, sounded more like an apology, making over-the-counter collections a perpetual sore spot. We sure have come a long way.
- today’s treatment, complete with tooth number(s), surfaces, and ADA codes
- today’s fees
- account balance
- previous balance
- copayment or deductible
- remaining third-party benefits
- expected third-party payment
- continuing care information
- amount of doctor/hygienist/chair time needed for next appointment .
Having this information as the patient is dismissed can have a very positive impact on cash flow, however, it doesn’t lessen the need for the business assistant to ASK FOR MONEY. By using much of the information displayed on-screen during the “ask,” chances of getting paid are greatly improved. For example, “Mrs. Anderson, today Dr. Thomas performed fillings on two teeth, which entailed five surfaces, plus medication in each tooth, and anesthetic, for a total of $226 for this visit. Our computer estimates that your remaining benefits from your insurer are approximately $72. Your balance for today’s visit, then, is $154. Would you prefer paying that with cash, check, or credit card?” This approach gives the patient a full understanding of what was done, along with a logical basis for the charges, plus it shows a generous willingness by the practice to wait for anticipated insurance payment. Finally, it directly mandates payment today for services rendered today. In a polite, friendly, nonthreatening manner, your business assistant needs to smile, look the patient straight in the eye, and make it clear that there’s nothing negotiable about this obligation.
ALTERNATE FINANCING: READY MONEY
The fact is that getting paid on the spot is far more valuable than getting paid at some later date, or not getting paid at all. Considering the costs of billing, tracking, and repeated collection efforts down the road, it’s no wonder that patient financing programs are regarded by so many doctors as manna from heaven. And from many a patient’s perspective, this kind of payment option can shift their thinking from “Way out of my budget,” to “Yep, I think I can handle this.”
INSURANCE: HARD CASH
After ages of submitting paper insurance claims and waiting the requisite eons before getting paid—or waiting the same amount of time to have claims rejected—the advent of electronic filing of claims being done by most practices these days has given cash flow a much-needed shot in the arm. As long as all the t’s are crossed and i’s dotted, third-party payments will typically arrive in half the time it took when they were filed manually. To that end, software should have the capacity to perform a validation process on each claim, making sure that all necessary provider and account information is included, and demonstrating zero tolerance for claims on which data is not correctly entered. Furthermore, some programs will automatically highlight the patient’s condition along with clinical annotations, resulting in expedited approvals of insurance claims. Talk about bolstering cash flow and reducing administrative costs!
- Tracking available benefits as well as uninsured procedures. This information is critical to treatment plan presentation.
- Tracking and processing secondary insurance automatically upon administration of primary benefits.
- Keeping signatures on file so that after an estimate of benefits is received, patient portion may be calculated and credit card payment automatically processed.
- Auditing submitted claims and automatically aging them—without input from your staff—until they are either paid off or written off.
- Billing insurer under the provider’s name, if different from patient’s regular doctor.
- Providing a detailed report of all claims sent within the last day/week/month.
PRODUCTIVITY SCHEDULING: TIME VERSUS MONEY
Keeping chairs filled with productive procedure time has been a long-standing challenge, but one for which many doctors have found an always-on-tap software solution: customized scheduling, which can precisely allocate time units to doctor time, assistant time, hygienist time, and chair time.
ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE: DUE AND OVERDUE
Again, thanks to the electronic filing of insurance claims, we’re seeing practices over the past few years whose accounts receivable have dropped from 2 X monthly production to 1 X or just below. Another factor in this success story, as mentioned earlier, is the more widespread use of credit cards, plus the influx of patient financing companies like CareCredit that weren’t as prominent back in the 1980s and 1990s.
THE LAST WORD
Take time to deliberate. But when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and make your move. Once you can see the fruit on the tree, it’s a greater pity to let it rot.
Ms. McKenzie is a nationally known lecturer, author, and consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. She is president of McKenzie Management and Associates, which provides in-office analysis of the business, clinical, and hygiene department; conducts on-site staff training; and offers a full line of educational management books, audiotapes, and videos. Since opening McKenzie Management in 1979, Sally has developed expedient practice systems, methods, and technologies as well as effective management approaches for the dental practice. Additionally, Ms. McKenzie’s 34 years of experience and expertise are now available as on-tap resources for her ventures: practicemanagement-online.com and dentalcareerdevelop.com. For information on what any of these companies can do for your practice, call Sally toll-free at (877) 777-6151, and visit her websites at: www.mckenziemgmt.com; www.practicemanagement-online.com; www.dentalcareerdevelop.com.
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