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Self Pay Patients – A Thorny Problem

Dovetail Payment

Managing your dental practice is no easy task. In these tough economic conditions, financial management may be the trickiest part to manage. Getting your patients to pay their bills on time is the key to profitability and long term stability. But not everyone can afford to settle their medical bills promptly. Do you have some patients who cannot – or even refuse to – pay?

You’re not alone. Most practices have at least a handful of clients with outstanding bills. Such patients usually fall into 2 groups:

  • People who pay for their own health. They are not enrolled in any healthcare or insurance plan
  • People with co-pays/deductibles as part of their health insurance. They may have other financial obligations that make it difficult to pay up

Create a Payment Policy and Use It

A payment policy is the first step in collecting your dues. This applies to all patients, regardless of how they pay you. The policy should clearly state the terms and conditions for payment. Make sure it contains the type of payment options, when bills are due, what kind of assistance is available for patients etc.

Once your policy is ready, print out copies and display it everywhere. Give it to every new patient, explain the terms and get their signature. Quite a few patients have outstanding bills because they didn’t know when they were due. Why miss out on those payments when a written policy can help close that gap?

How to Collect from Uninsured Patients

Find out if a new patient has insurance when they make their appointment. If the answer is no, you need to make sure they know their obligations. Prepare a rough estimate of the costs they can expect for the services provided. Find out if they can pay that amount. If the answer is yes, then the road ahead is clear.

If not, you can offer them a few options like a payment plan. Work out a schedule with due dates, the installment amounts, down payments and so on. If the patient requires non-urgent care, you may postpone the procedure so they can save up for it. This is a good middle ground between losing patients or not getting paid.

Send regular payment reminders to every patient who is on such a plan. If they miss a date, call or email them to find out the reason. Avoid aggressive tactics or demands for payment. Remind your staff to be polite at all times. Sometimes it’s as simple as forgetting the due date. If the patient has other obligations, see if you can re-negotiate a new plan that suits everyone.

How to Collect from Insured Patients

With insured patients, the issue is different. Most often it happens because your office bills the entire amount to the insurer. You may not know if the patient has a deductible or co-pay. Weeks or months later, the insurance company explains the issue and you have to collect the remainder. But what incentive does the patient have to pay at this point? They have received services and their problem has been solved.

The best solution here is to clarify the insurance plan and the patient’s obligations before you provide service. This is especially required when the treatment or procedure is an expensive one. If your bills are due on the day of the visit, collect the copay or deductible then. This way you avoid any nasty surprises in the future. The older the debt, the harder it is to collect on it.

Try these steps and see your outstanding bills get smaller. But if you’ve tried every step and nothing has worked, it may be time to hand over the debt to a collection agency.