Credit Card Payments

Today, over 85 percent of the dental practices in the U.S. are set up to accept payment by major credit cards from patients. In my opinion, this is a very effective payment option and the few offices that are not accepting credit cards certainly should. This is a payment option that benefits the patient and practice. Below are some suggestions to help your office increase payment by credit card.

Gary Takacs

Today, over 85 percent of the dental practices in the U.S. are set up to accept payment by major credit cards from patients. In my opinion, this is a very effective payment option and the few offices that are not accepting credit cards certainly should. This is a payment option that benefits the patient and practice. Below are some suggestions to help your office increase payment by credit card.

Pre-authorized payment - it`s now possible

Most dental offices are not aware that they can set up pre-authorized payment by credit card with their patients. It is not only possible, but very easy to do! If your patient is unable to settle his/her balance in full at the time of service and needs some payment flexibility, you now can set up pre-authorized payment via his/her credit card. Visa and MasterCard have developed a consent form, titled "Pre-Authorized Health-care Form," specifically for this purpose. (See Figure 1)

Pre-authorized, credit-card payment can be used two ways. In one method, the patient authorizes you to charge the balance not covered by his/her insurance to a credit card. Another way for this form to be used is to set up an installment payment plan with the patient. If you use this form for an installment payment plan, you simply fill in the amount of the monthly payment and the day of the month that you will process the transaction. This is a terrific way to provide a short-term payment plan and reduce your risk of nonpayment.

This payment method is not risk-free entirely. The patient might be at his/her credit limit on the day of the authorized transaction or he/she could close the charge account. While these are possible risks, the reason this payment option works so well is that you are automating the payment process as far as the patient is concerned. Once the patient signs the authorization form, the patient doesn`t need to do anything else - payment happens automatically.

Contrast this situation with the traditional method of mailing a billing statement and hoping the patient pays. The postal service could lose your statement, the patient could be overwhelmed by other priorities, other bills could take precedence, or, the dog could even eat your billing statement - I`ve actually heard this excuse! By automating the payment process for the patient, you greatly increase payment compliance. This payment method has been in place for a number of years now in health care, and the default rate has proven to be extremely low.

Applications for automated payment

Payment for orthodontic treatment is one obvious application for automated credit-card payment. Other applications include soft-tissue management cases or any other procedures where the treatment is provided over an extended period of time.

While these are a couple of natural applications for this payment method, some creative thinking on your part could produce many other opportunities for this payment method, as well. For example, many offices will divide the payment for the crown into two payments, with half due on the prep appointment and the balance due on the seat appointment. The problem with this arrangement is that many patients do not comply with the payment plan, or they cancel or no-show for their appointments because they are low on funds. Rather than tie the visit to payment, you could set up a pre-authorized payment plan with the patient with his/her credit card. Your payment compliance will go up and you`ll see fewer cancellations or no-shows.

Other techniques

Some other things you can do to promote payment by credit card are to display health-care-appropriate countertop signs, print a message indicating that you accept payment by credit card on your billing statement or design statement inserts with a credit-card-payment message. Visa has developed a very useful package of information called a "Dental Usage Kit" that is available at no cost by calling (800) 461-8472. This kit is filled with many useful materials to help you promote payment by credit card.

Consider promoting payment by credit card in your office. Patients appreciate this option and each settlement by credit card is one less statement that you will be sending out.

The author is a noted authority and frequent speaker on payment issues in dentistry. He may be reached at (602) 951-1652.

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