Tackle Dental Collections Problems with a Streamlined Payment System

February 2015

By: Angie Walters

Healthy dental practices should aim to collect 99 percent of all their fees.

In 2014, (according to a Dental Economics and Levin Group research report), collections for GP dental practices were up 3 points to 94.3 percent. While that increase is definitely a positive, pushing your practice toward that stellar 99 percent goal will require a focus on best practices, solid guidelines, and renewed attention to your patients’ experience.

Creating an Effective System
When you read the 99 percent collection target mentioned above, you may have thought to yourself that your practice is already in that ballpark. Surprisingly, the Levin study also revealed that most practices are collecting only around 96.5 percent of their fees. That margin might sound small, but for a practice bringing in $800K in annual revenue, that’s $20K a year in lost income.

If you want to close that gap, your first step will involve revamping your payment system by taking a fresh look at your collections guidelines and practices in three, specific areas:

  • Treatment/Time of Service
  • Statements
  • Communication around Insurance

Overcoming Objections

Before you even consider taking a new approach to your payment system, it’s important to acknowledge and plan for some of the hurdles you’re going to face. Your greatest one will, most likely, be your staff.

Staff objections may include a discomfort around talking about money, a general distaste for bothering patients about their payment, and difficulty prioritizing payment-related work in an already busy day. You’ll likely also face challenges around creating a consistent and predictable use of staff time to dedicate to payment collections.

While everything mentioned above are issues to be taken seriously, they are not insurmoutable. Proper training, an understanding of existing workflows, and involving your staff in payment system decisions will go a long way in getting off to a strong start.

Optimizing Time of Service

Framing patient behavior around your payment system starts the second they walk through your office door.

It is absolutely essential that you take the opportunity here, even before treatment, to relate your policies and expectations to your patients, give them realistic pictures of their treatment plans and financial obligations, and set them up with the tools to navigate payment and communications options. This means creating new practices such as having patients read and sign your financial policies at every visit. Also make sure your policies are concise and simple to understand, and have patients acknowledge (in writing) their responsibility for any charges that insurance does not cover. Keeping the financial aspect of your relationship fresh in patient minds at every visit will prime them for future interactions if any dispute (such as perceived insurance mistakes) does arise.

Also, remember to keep your staff equipped with the necessary supplies when collecting payment at the time of service. Provide a pre-addressed stamped envelope, and create a standard script for your staff regarding payment remittance. You don’t want to turn patients away if they’re unable to pay at the time of service (that will cost you a wasted appointment slot and possible patient revenue), so be proactive in giving patients tools to stay in your good financial graces.

Using Statements

If you haven’t given much thought to your account statements, it’s time to reconsider.

Statements are an important communication opportunity you have with your patients, and highlighting certain important pieces of information can make a big difference in you actually receiving payment. Some of the most important are:

  • Phone Number: Make it simple for the patient to get clarification or to set up a payment plan.
  • Due Date: If this isn’t included in an obvious area, it’s easy for the patient to de-prioritize paying your bill.
  • Penalties: Remember, you’re in competition with their electric company, cell phone provider, and credit card company for payment. Make sure you stay a priority by reminding patients that there are implications for violating payment terms.
  • Late Reminders: Keep these visible. The use of colored boxes, text, or inserts will help get your patients’ attention.

Answering the Insurance Question

We could dedicate an entire article to this on its own, and with ICD-10 implementation looming this year, it’s time to start to take a serious look at how you communicate regarding insurance.

Create standardized scripts and policies around requesting and verifying patient insurance. Your staff should be informed on how to handle any issues (like expired policies or coverage questions) in this area.

Claims submission should be as smooth and up-to-date as possible. The industry has many practice management solutions that integrate claims submissions capabilities into streamlined, electronic options that will not only ease workflows but also reduce errors, rejected claims, and denials.

Your ideal solution should also include flexible payment input and documentation options that allow for easy access, account flagging, and categorization of balances and account statuses. If you’re waiting and not taking advantage of current technology solutions, you’re shorting yourself, and making future upgrades more difficult.

(To go deeper into the subject, we recommend reading this article from Dentistry IQ.)

Getting Started

As you go into 2015 and apply the above advice to your practice, just remember to focus on education and communication (with both your patients and staff) and keep a results-oriented approach. If you do that you’ll be off to a strong start in creating an effective, systematic, and predictable payment system.

While collecting payments can be difficult, there are ways to improve your patients’ customer service experience and increase retention. Click here to read moreIf you have any questions on this topic, please contact Angie Walters at AWalters@GPPcpa.com or 214-635-2547. To learn more about Angie you can visit her bio or Google+ page.

Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.

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