Easy tips to ensure your dental practice gets paid on time — and in total — for treatment
By Jan Keller

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In the current economic environment, the collection of accounts receivable becomes more of a challenge each day. There are several easy steps to take, however, that can help:
  • Strengthen your collection procedures.
  • Shorten your accounts receivable aging numbers.
  • Improve your overall collection rates.
  • Improve cash flow.
Let's take a look at a few that you can implement easily and quickly.

Define Your Internal Credit Guidelines

If your first thought was "what guidelines?" now is a perfect time to develop and implement a strong internal credit guideline policy. It's important to have clear written guidelines for your team to follow that go beyond "Make sure our patients pay" or "Just collect the money." And remember, as the doctor, you must resist the urge to make or imply financial arrangements when discussing treatment with a patient. Let your financial or treatment coordinator handle this at the appropriate time, based on your treatment guidelines.

Tip: Allow your treatment coordinator leeway to vary from the guidelines based on the credit worthiness and past history of the patient, or in an attempt to attract the right new patient into the practice.

Tip: A system of controls for checking out a potential patient's credit should be in place, and it should be used before treatment is rendered. Further, there should be clear communication between the entire team as to current patients who become delinquent or otherwise do not follow the credit policy. Your morning huddle is an excellent place to bring this information to the teamÕs attention.

Ensure Patients Understand Your Payment and Collection Guidelines

Getting paid on time is vital to the success of any dental practice. You can increase your chances of making sure this happens with patients by following a few simple guidelines.

Communicate your payment and collection rules clearly to patients. Provide written confirmation of how patients have agreed to manage payment of their treatment. Use a Truth In Lending form for all negotiations and include clear written information regarding your expectations. The patient should receive a copy of the TIL form while you keep and file the original form.

Tip: Make sure billing statements include a telephone number customers can call or website address customers can access with billing questions and a pre-addressed envelope.

Tip: The faster statements are sent, the faster you will receive payment. It is best to give the patient a billing statement (not just a walkout statement) on the day of service showing them treatment, their payment and any balance statement, including a personal thank you for their prompt attention to handling their account.

Follow Through on Your Payment and Collection Terms

If your policy is that late payers will go into collection after 60 or 90 days, then you must stick to that policy. A team member designated as the accounts receivable coordinator should call patients who do not follow through with the payment negotiations. Accounts of those who exceed your payment deadlines should be penalized and/or sent into collection, if that is your stated policy. Trojan offers professionally written letters that can be sent to your patients to help with your collection efforts.

Choose the Right Person for Challenging Phone Follow-Up

The person you designate to make calls to patients with past due bills must understand the seriousness and professionalism required for this delicate task. Here is a suggested routine for calls to delinquent payers:
  • Become familiar with the accounts past and present payment history.
  • Call the patient and ask to speak with whoever has the authority to make payment.
  • Demand payment in plain, non-apologetic terms.
  • If the patient offers payment, ask for specific dates and terms.
  • If no payment is offered, tell the patient what the consequences will be for non-payment.
  • Take and record notes on the conversation.
  • Make a memo to check on the promised payment.
  • Make a follow-up call if no payment is received, and refer to the notes taken as to any promised payments.
In closing, a strong and well-defined payment policy, in the form of internal credit guidelines that are understood and practiced by all, is a huge step forward not only in creating an environment that fosters trust and confidence between you and your patients, it is an economic necessity if your practice is to survive — even thrive — in challenging economic times.

Janice Keller has 25-plus years of experience in dentistry — clinically, and as an office manager and software trainer. Now, as a practice management consultant, she provides high-quality, customized practice development and education to clients and their teams.