Negotiating successful payment arrangements: 4 easy steps to succeed every time
By Jan Keller

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Wouldn't it be nice if every payment arrangement interaction between your office and your patients went smoothly, with no awkwardness or misunderstandings? The bottom line is, you can make that happen. "Perfect" payment arrangements are possible if you follow these four easy steps:

Which step is the most important for payment arrangements?
  • 1. Information
  • 2. Preparation
  • 3. Negotiation
  • 4. Documentation
  1. Information gathering
  2. Preparation
  3. Negotiation
  4. Documentation
Let's look at each step in a little more detail.

1. Gather information prior to speaking with the patient. A discussion with the doctor a day or two prior to the consultation is important in the preparation process. If the negotiation process occurs on the same day as the appointment, the team will need excellent communication skills. Relaying the recommended treatment from hygienist to doctor allows the patient to hear it for the second time when the hygienist escorts the patient to the administrative area.

Again, communication regarding recommended treatment should be done verbally. Ask the patient if he or she any questions before the financial assistant (FA) takes over. If the patient is ready, the FA can start the negotiation process.

2. Prepare where the negotiations will take place. A private, quiet area with computer access is ideal. If you do not have a consultation area or private area to hold negotiations at this time, having the treatment coordinator address it with the patient in the treatment room, sitting eye-to-eye and knee-to-knee will work. The bottom line is: be prepared, have all the information you need in hand and a written treatment plan. It's also important to prepare for resistance or discussion. Going into a negotiation situation without being prepared will almost surely lead to failure.

3. Don't be afraid to negotiate. Let's say Mary, the FA, presents the first payment option to the patient. If the patient is agreeable to this option, Mary moves on to documentation of the arrangement, gets the patient's signature, schedules the treatment and thanks the patient. Job well done!

However, if the first option is not acceptable to the patient, move to the second option, according to your office guidelines. The key here is always stop and wait for the patient to respond. We are often uncomfortable with silence and do not allow the patient a moment to think and respond before jumping in with the second and third options because we're afraid they will say no.

It's OK if they say no. The goal is to negotiate until they agree. They have already agreed to the treatment, you are negotiating how they will pay for it. Remember if a patient has a question, or hesitates, it does not mean they don't want the treatment, it simply means you have not yet found the solution for them that makes it acceptable from a financial point of view.

4. Documentation is critical. Patients should always sign consent forms, as well as a federal truth-in-lending form, which clearly defines the negotiated payment arrangements. On the off chance the patient declines treatment, documentation is still crucial. In this case, a declined treatment form should be signed, noting the reason the patient is delaying or declining the recommended treatment. Use your software to assist with this documentation. Create reminders for follow-through if you have discussed contacting the patient in the future to discuss scheduling treatment.

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.