A Businesslike Approach to Payment

As I speak with doctors and their team members at seminars held in every part of the country, I have discovered that many doctors want to make changes in their financial policy, but they don`t know where to begin. Another common question I hear is, "How can I make changes in my financial policy and become more businesslike, yet not offend my existing patients?" While there is no panacea or magic elixir that will allow you to immediately transform the payment performance of your practice, the goo

Gary Takacs

As I speak with doctors and their team members at seminars held in every part of the country, I have discovered that many doctors want to make changes in their financial policy, but they don`t know where to begin. Another common question I hear is, "How can I make changes in my financial policy and become more businesslike, yet not offend my existing patients?" While there is no panacea or magic elixir that will allow you to immediately transform the payment performance of your practice, the good news is that you can become more businesslike and do so with a minimum of upset to your patients. This column will outline how to begin the transition in your practice.

The walk-out statement

Ultimately, our goal is to receive payment at the time of service. Yet, it seems that the existing system in many dental offices make it too easy for the patient to exit with a casual "Oh, just send me a bill" comment on the way out. To increase your success at collecting payment at the time of service, I suggest that you begin using a patient walk-out statement.

I have evaluated hundreds of walk-out statements; some are great and others are not the least bit useful. A good walk-out statement will be written and designed in a way that your patient can understand easily. Your walk-out statement should include a summary of all treatment provided, an estimate of any insurance coverage (if you accept assignment of insurance benefits) and a "bottom line" figure reflecting the estimated patient portion. Keep this statement simple.

It is very important that this walk-out statement be prepared and printed prior to your patient checking out at the front desk. This step is critical. If your front-desk person has to run to the back to find out what was done, then prepare a statement while the patient is waiting at the front desk, you will not have much success at collecting at the time of service. Faced with the inconvenience of waiting, most patients will simply dash out and tell you to send them a bill. You and your team members may need to develop a better system for communicating what treatment was provided to print an accurate walk-out statement prior to the patient checking out, but the results will be well worth your effort.

Verbal skills - what to say and how to say it

Once you have committed to using a walk-out statement, then the next step is some verbal skills for your front-desk team member to ask for payment at the time of service. I suggest a script as follows:

Front-desk team member: "Mrs. Jones, I have prepared a walk-out statement detailing the treatment provided today. Let me review this with you."

Your front-desk person then can go over the walk-out statement with the patient and explain the total fee, the estimated insurance portion and the estimated patient portion. Consider the following script for asking for payment for the patient portion:

Front-desk team member: "Your portion is $ ______. That can be taken care of today by cash, check or credit card. Which would you prefer?"

This method of asking for payment is very effective because you are giving your patient choices, yet limiting their choices to specific options that work well for your office. This technique will not work every time, but you will be surprised how many patients will pay by cash, check or credit card when asked in this manner.

Overcoming objectives

I understand that if your office always has been loose and casual about payment, then this new method of asking for payment at the time of service may come as a surprise to your patients. My experience is that most patients will pay at the time of service, especially if given attractive payment options such as use of a credit card. If a patient objects, I suggest politely telling the patient that you have had to make some changes to the office financial policy and that you now are asking patients to settle their portion at the time of service. Then, ask again for payment. If the patient continues to object, try the following:

Front-desk team member: "I`ll tell you what, Mrs. Jones. Since you were not prepared to pay today, I`ll make an exception for you. Here is your billing statement (hand her the walk-out statement) and I`ll also give you a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your convenience. We would appreciate receiving payment within the next couple of weeks."

If you consistently follow the system of providing a walk-out statement and asking for payment at the time of service, then the patient should not be surprised when you ask for payment on his/her next visit. By using the suggestions in this column, you should be able to make the transition from loose and casual payment policies to a more businesslike system with a minimum of patient upset.

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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