When it comes to collecting on overdue accounts, consistency is key. That’s the advice from Sandy Luparello, the Senior Director of OrthoSynetics’ Practice Financial Services department. The department employs full-time staff to keep collection efforts going at a constant clip on behalf of clients, but for practices that handle their collections in-house, it can sometimes feel as though you’re fighting an uphill battle.
Nix the Pay-It-When-You-Can Philosophy
When collection efforts falter, she says, the whole practice suffers. “Sometimes, it’s because the office doesn’t make it a priority,” says Luperallo. However, more often than not, it’s because doctors don’t like confrontation, which leads them to adopting a Pay-Me-When-You-Can philosophy. This is fine if you’re loaning a friend money to buy a bag of chips. It’s a whole other ball of dental wax when talking about your business. In addition, doctors don’t want to stop or extend treatment for clinical reasons, and they always want to make their patients happy.
It’s hard to see someone struggle with the financial strain of treatment, but in the end, you need to keep your staff paid and supplies coming in. Think of it this way – once treatment is over, you no longer have any leverage with the patient. Waiting until the bill is six months past due does nothing but foster resentment for you and the patient you were trying so hard to please.
A Well-Oiled Collecting Machine
“Typically, two to three people in a practice are in charge of collections: the front desk workers, the insurance coordinator, and the manager who oversees it all,” Luparello says. To make things run smoothly and ensure that patients are paying their bills, everyone needs to be aware of their responsibilities and duties. Problems arise when you get behind, so it’s important to keep up and complete these tasks daily, or at the very least weekly.
Instituting payment plans is a great way to lift some of the financial burden for your patients. After all, it’s better to have staff collect a portion of an account than nothing.
Luparello recommends meeting the goal of maintaining a collection rate of 98% or above. Once 90 days hits, it’s recommended to turn the account over to a third party. If you feel collections aren’t being done effectively in-house, look to a third party to help from the start to avoid the emotional issues that can be tied up with collecting payment.
When In Doubt, Seek A Third Party
OrthoSynetics offers collection services as part of its comprehensive service package, or collections can be contracted as a stand-alone service. Every practice is different. Some choose to do it themselves, some go with a small, local company, and some prefer a larger collection agency. There are numerous options for you to choose from, so do your research, see what makes sense for your practice, and go for it.
The Right Way To Use Late Fees
Using late fees the wrong way is one mistake practices should avoid. “Late fees should be a deterrent, encouraging patients to stay on top of their bills,” Luparello says. “They can also be used as a bargaining tool.” How? If a patient is past due, you can tell a patient that they have accrued a $50 late fee and that if they pay X amount today, you’ll remove it immediately. This tactic works without any hard feelings because the patient feels like they are getting out of a penalty, and you have succeeded in making their overall balance lower than what it was.
The Most Wonderful Time of Year Is Tax Season
Practices who’ve been operating for many years typically know how the calendar can affect their collection efforts, and they’ve learned to budget accordingly. The holidays can be the most difficult time of the year financially because practices are paying their own bonuses. Meanwhile, patients’ families are cash-strapped from all the gift purchases, family get-togethers, and travel expenses. At this time of year, collections typically take a dip. On the other hand, collections often go up around tax time when refunds roll in.
Operate On A Case-By-Case Basis
Luparello recommends not being too rigid when it comes to your collections process. Open up a dialogue with your patients and learn more about their situations. “Some past-due patients won’t want to pay, but most people like their orthodontists and they really do want to pay their bills.”