PROACTIVE PRACTICE MANAGEMENT
“I feel as if my team is well-versed in patient payment arrangements, but I know we could do better. Sometimes, patients aren’t clear about how they can pay for dental services and that they have options available to them that may help them move ahead with needed treatment without creating a financial burden. What would you suggest to make sure we are ensuring a high case acceptance rate and getting paid for services?”
Great question; and of
course a timely inquiry in these economic times. Patients are looking
carefully at the value they receive for their dollars spent; in any
place – dental office, clothing store, auto dealership, etc.
In my experiences
recently while working with dental offices, the issue about patient
payment for services continues to be a relevant topic. Most dental team
members understand the fundamentals of a good patient payment system,
and in most cases they do a fine job of getting patients to pay.
Once in a while, I
come across an office that boasts excellent statistics on patient
payment; but something’s wrong. The office isn’t growing, patients
are not accepting treatment, and the doctor and team are frustrated.
This occurred recently in a client’s office where the office was
solid, but case acceptance was down, production was down, and cash flow
was thin. Looking deeper into the situation, I found a payment system
that had done okay, but was missing a few key elements. Once in place,
case acceptance picked up, the practice was productive once more, and
cash flow was beginning to roll all over again.
So what was the deal?
The office had become too strict on payment arrangements, they were not
using a written financial policy that once was in place and had served
the practice well, and the team had lost the edge with their verbal
Back to the drawing
board? Maybe not.
Throw the baby out
with the bath water? Not yet.
Get back to basics?
Yes, now we’re talking!
If it hasn’t been
done recently, re-visit the patient payment process in your practice.
The key here is to make sure all the resources you have available are
being used with great communication skills so that patients will say
“Yes!” to treatment and money doesn’t get in the way.
Dental patients across
the country are service savvy. They want to be sure their investment in
healthcare provides them with the benefits of good oral health: looking
good, feeling good, having strong teeth and gums, and enjoying their
natural teeth for a lifetime.
Imagine for a moment
how many hours of continuing education was logged during 2008 that
covered clinical care, treatment methods, and materials? Now, how many
hours were recorded on business related courses regarding communication
skills and systems development for patient payment arrangements?
Often overlooked is
the need to keep up with the changing marketplace regarding payment.
It’s not a surprise to me that, on occasion, some offices lose the
edge and their mainstay systems such as patient payment arrangements may
begin to hinder practice growth.
Studies conducted in
practices recently show a similar pattern than in years past: dental
consumers continue to pay for approximately one half of all dental
treatment out of their own pockets.
In today’s economic climate,
unless patients know their options to pay for services, they may choose
not to go ahead with treatment. In fact, sensible payment options and
good communication skills will help the patient make informed decisions
that will lead to enhanced case acceptance. Moreover, if you haven’t
re-visited your payment options during the last year, your payment
systems may not be sensible in these days and times.
Back to Basics!
Three simple ground rules will
help your practice cope with these changing times. Follow, or re-visit
if the case may be, these rules diligently; make them the foundation
upon which you build your payment systems. In this way, you can
experience payment success in your practice.
Ground Rule #1:
“Discuss Fees Prior to Treatment.” Patients should be informed of
all fees, and specific arrangements should be made for payment before
any treatment begins.
Ground Rule #2:
“Don’t be a bank.” When patients are allowed to pay for
their care over an extended period of time, you are actually loaning
them money! And, you run the risk of alienating a patient; they may not
return to the office knowing they owe money and haven’t been diligent
Ground Rule #3
“We will provide a variety of payment options.” “Not
paying” is not one of them!. It is a reality that, while people
generally want the best possible care, they often need some form of
financing. The best way to solve this problem, without breaking Ground
Rule #2, is to provide a variety of payment options for your patients.
What kinds of payment
methods are available? Of course it’s preferred to have payment in
full for services rendered. But for those hard to manage situations,
here are some back-up methods.
Offer a cash courtesy
for treatment paid for in advance. This is a great way for patients to
save money, and a way for the practice to secure payment. An added
benefit to the practice is patients tend to keep appointments for which
they have already paid! Be
mindful however, of insurance contracts that require proper
documentation of discounts or courtesies.
Make better use of
major credit cards as a payment option. One approach, which could be
used more, is the process of spreading payments out over time using a
signature on file for credit cards. There are forms available that
provide structure to this system. But exceptional presentation skills
must be used with this payment option. Consider this type of language
when presenting credit card debiting:
“We have a great way for you to handle payment for your treatment. So that you don’t have to pay for the services all at once, you can make payments over time, interest free. All we need is your permission to debit your credit card once a month for an amount we agree upon and only for the amount of services provided. That way, you can have the dental treatment needed to get well, and you can make payments over time. Which credit card would work better for you, MasterCard, VISA, American Express, or Discover?”
Offer this to patients
who have established themselves in the practice and have a track record
of timely payment and attendance; that is, people who regularly pay well
and keep their appointments.
In all cases, it is
important to make sure your patients know you accept payment by credit
card, and they can make payments over time with their credit card. Tell
them! Don’t rely on a sign at the front desk or a note on the billing
statement. Use good old face-to-face communication.
Use a dedicated
healthcare financing company for patients in need of financing. Here,
you receive payment up front, and the patient can make low monthly
payments. A definite win-win for the patient and the practice. Again,
make sure the verbal communication skills are at the forefront. Please,
use words that highlight the benefits the patient will receive when
using an outside finance company; such as:
“We have a wonderful way for you to handle payment for your dental care. The good news is, you don’t have to pay for your treatment all at once, you can make payments over time, and it’s interest free!”
advised, in either of the case of credit card debiting or using an
outside finance company, to inform the patient of what their monthly
payment will be. For example,
“We can split
that up into four payments of $750 each. Which credit card would work
for you, MasterCard, VISA, American Express, or Discover?”
“If you use the six-month interest free option, your monthly payment will be $250 per month. When would you like to get started with your treatment?”
Here’s where a
simple, straightforward, one page written financial policy which
explains the various payment methods you have elected to accept in the
practice comes in to play. With this tool, describe the various payment
methods in a positive manner, and be sure to describe the benefit the
patient receive under each option:
excited about helping you get well and become as dentally healthy as
possible. We have a variety of payment options to choose from, let’s
go over them and you can decide which would be best for you.
You may handle
payment by pre-paying for services; we offer a pre-payment courtesy of
5% when payment is made before treatment begins; your savings would be
Or, you may choose
to use a major credit card, we accept MasterCard, VISA, American
Express, or Discover.
For our patients,
upon approved credit, may be able to make payments over time, interest
free, for up to six, 12, even 24 months.
Which of these
payment options would work best for you?”
recommendations (and the Written Financial Policy I have included) to
build payment systems that work for your patients. Work on the verbal
communication skills mentioned here as times have changed. Dental
offices must re-visit systems in the practice regularly to make sure the
system is serving the practice; especially during changing economic
times. In the final analysis, patients deserve the very best care you
can deliver, and you deserve to be paid!