If your dental practice was strong before COVID-19, then there is little reason to believe it won’t resume its strength once the pandemic is over. Patients will still need dental care, and with so many temporarily cancelled regular checkups, your schedule is likely to fill up as soon as restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, dentists should prepare today for regaining financial control.
One of the most important tasks practices face is protecting their revenue. After dealing with months of reduced or depleted services and income, accounting for every dollar will be imperative to repairing your finances—and it starts with patient payments. Simply put, the longer a bill goes unpaid, the less likely it is to be collected. You must proactively maintain accounts receivable (AR) to keep your practice in good standing.
Here are five ways to improve the patient billing, payment, and collections process.
Set Payment Expectations
If you don’t require payment in full at the time of service, then be sure your patients are aware of when and how they need to pay. You’ll need to confirm patient records are up to date and that intake forms include Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) disclosures, which set expectations with patients regarding billing and collection communications from your office.
You should also include language allowing consent to be passed along to third parties and assignees. Create an AR “kit” for each patient that includes all pertinent billing information such as email address, cell and home phone numbers, and employer. Setting expectations with patients at the start creates more clarity and accountability, while accurate patient information will make your staff’s job easier, should they need to follow up on payments.
Establish a Billing and Collections Timeline
Create a schedule for billing and follow-up. A best practice is to issue an invoice within five days of a patient’s visit and request payment within 30 days. If the bill is outstanding by day 31, staff should follow up directly with the patient. If payment still isn’t received within 60 to 90 days, the account should be sent for collection.
Early and consistent outreach from in-house staff generally delivers the best outcome in getting bills paid. Outstanding AR deprives your practice of cash and viability, so make it your obligation to get paid for every service you provide.
Train Staff in Effective Communications
Create a collection policy and procedures so your staff has direction on what—and what not—to say and do during the follow-up period. Remember that this should not be a confrontational call, but an empathetic conversation.
Following up on outstanding accounts can be a critical point in the patient experience. Make sure your staff is well trained, proficient with a script, and comfortable making what can be an uncomfortable call. Setting key performance indicators and benchmarks for your team can provide you with a basis for measuring success.
Offer Payment Flexibility
Given the current environment, odds are that you’re going to encounter a higher percentage of patients suffering financial hardships. Some may have experienced a job loss and/or cuts to healthcare benefits.
Equip your staff with payment plan options that can offer your patients financial relief and flexibility while providing adequate revenue for your practice. Customers are more likely to pay when they’ve agreed to a plan. If they fall off track, have the same staff member reach out with a gentle reminder.
Partner with an Expert
If you’re unable to collect the patient balance by day 60 or 90, you should look to a reputable collections partner with whom you can offload the administrative burden. The earlier you send a file to a collections agency, the better results it will be able to provide you. Typically, accounts are sent anywhere between 30 and 120 days delinquent at the time of placement. Partnering with an agency will enable your staff to focus on other mission-critical tasks without the added stress of collecting on outstanding debts.
Patient payment issues often result from miscommunication or forgetfulness on the part of the patient. For example, the patient may have misplaced the bill and lost track of it. It isn’t always an adversarial scenario where the patient is avoiding a payment obligation. However, we are now facing an economic crisis and many patients may be in a vulnerable financial position, finding it difficult to pay for dental services.
The bottom line is that the longer you wait to make contact and offer a mutually beneficial solution, the more exposure you have to the patient running into further financial difficulties that limit their ability to pay. By training your staff, creating an effective payment policy, and giving patients flexible solutions to pay their bills, your practice can enhance the patient experience and increase your overall practice revenue.
Mr. Corlyon is CEO of Capital Collection Management, which provides revenue cycle consultation and collection services for the dental industry.