The last word on the front desk

The collection ratio for your practice should never be below 98 percent. To be efficient and profitable, you must delegate complete authority and responsibility for collections to your receptionist. The position of receptionist or business assistant is one of the most challenging and potentially rewarding careers open to an ambitious and dedicated person today - a person of many faces, all of them smiling. Your receptionist/business assistant is a diplomat, hostess, file clerk, financier, admini

Hugh F. Doherty, DDS, CFP

The collection ratio for your practice should never be below 98 percent. To be efficient and profitable, you must delegate complete authority and responsibility for collections to your receptionist. The position of receptionist or business assistant is one of the most challenging and potentially rewarding careers open to an ambitious and dedicated person today - a person of many faces, all of them smiling. Your receptionist/business assistant is a diplomat, hostess, file clerk, financier, administrator, appointments secretary, amateur psychiatrist, manager, and, most importantly, a professional money collector. We`re not talking about an expert at harassment, but a sensitive and persuasive executive who genuinely likes to work with and help our patients.

To be successful in this position, the receptionist/business assistant must be aware of and proficient in all aspects of that many-faceted job description. The term "matrix" is defined in Webster`s Dictionary as "that which gives form or foundation to something embedded in it, as a mold for casting." The front-desk person is such a matrix, the mold that reflects the first and lasting impression of the entire office to the new patient, who is nearly always apprehensive. The front-desk person holds in confidence the details of the professional services rendered by the doctor and the confidences of each individual patient. The key to being a successful collection expert is in the personalized, organized, and persistent approach to each of these responsibilities.

As the professional collectors in the practice, receptionists must view the doctor`s money as their money, the doctor`s patients as their patients, the practice`s goals as their personal goals, and the survival of the practice as their own survival.

The Big Issue

Why is it that we hesitate before asking patients for payment? We would not expect to walk into a department store or any place of business and not pay for what we purchased. Yet we do not educate our patients about our expectations, as well as how and why we must get paid for the services we render. Why should we perform a highly professional, vitally important, and worthwhile service to the community and not expect payment?

The Solution

We must educate ourselves first, and then our patients. We must motivate them to pay for services when they are rendered. The number-one, basic step in successful collections is to establish between doctor and front-desk staff a total understanding of the practice`s financial policies. The doctor must delegate this function to the receptionist (who, I am assuming, is functioning as business assistant). The receptionist must be responsible and accountable, and must completely understand the doctor`s financial policy in order to effect a smooth, professional relationship between the patient and the dental practice.

This understanding should be in the form of a written policy. These policies must be arranged so as to make it convenient and affordable for the patient to do business with the practice. Without specific financial arrangement alternatives in writing, receptionists cannot make positive decisions, nor can they expect patients to respect their work on the financial arrangements.

The Last Word

If the receptionist sets up a program for payment and the patient makes some other arrangement verbally with the doctor, the receptionist cannot expect to be effective in collecting the unpaid balance. The doctor can be a soft touch to his neighbors and friends. The tendency to make exceptions makes doctors vulnerable and the most unlikely candidates in the practice to make financial arrangements. Put control of the money with the receptionist by saying, "Mary handles all of the financial arrangements, and anything you work out with her is fine with me."

Hugh F. Doherty, DDS, CFP, is a certified financial planner, national lecturer, financial advisor to the health-care profession, and CEO of Doctor`s Financial Network. Dr. Doherty is also director of The Personal & Practice Financial "Boot Camp." For further information on the "Boot Camp," lectures, consultations, or study club workshops, call him at (800) 544-9653 or visit his Web site www.dr.hughdoherty.com.

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