The past due letter

Sept. 1, 2008
Can you give us some tips on how to word a letter to a patient that has a past due account with the practice? We struggle with making our point courteously while being direct with the request for payment.

by Dianne Glasscoe-Watterson

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Dear Dianne,
Can you give us some tips on how to word a letter to a patient that has a past due account with the practice? We struggle with making our point courteously while being direct with the request for payment.

Dear Sheri,

First, I would like to say that the best action to take is to be in a proactive stance, meaning you collect the uninsured portion at the time the insurance is filed. This way, there is no reason to be billing patients except in rare circumstances.

The most effective way to collect past due accounts is through telephone communication, with a letter being the last resort. The financial coordinator may find it necessary to place collection calls at times other than 8 to 5 traditional work hours to reach the patient at home. The rules for placing collection calls are:

  1. Never place collection calls after 8 p.m. or during the dinner hour.
  2. Do not leave messages with other family members about the nature of the call.
  3. Always remain courteous, even if the patient loses his or her temper.
  4. Collection calls should be made from an area with complete privacy
  5. Caller identification should be blocked or restricted to prevent the patient from identifying the dental practice.
  6. Do not leave voice mails about collection problems. It is permissible to ask the patient to return the call. "Hi, Mrs. Smith, this is Lisa at Dental Smiles. Would you be so kind to return this call? The number is (123) 456-7890." (Tip – Always say the number slowly and repeat it.)
  7. Never hang up first.
  8. Always establish a definitive dollar arrangement before ending the conversation.
  9. Document details of the conversation.
  10. Keep a positive attitude.

      Here is a sample conversation that could be used by the financial coordinator:

      "Hello, Mrs. Smith. This is Martha from Dr. Taylor's office. I am calling about your outstanding balance of (amount). We have not received a payment since (date). There must be a problem." At this point, give the patient a chance to speak and be very sympathetic to the problem presented, then continue with the following:

      "I am very sorry that you have had this problem, Mrs. Smith. However, our accountant was in last week to review these accounts. He will return next week for a report of our conversation. I must give him an amount we can expect to be paid on your account each month and a date of the month on which to expect it."

      You asked for a sample collection letter. This should be sent certified mail with return receipt requested.

      Dear Mrs. Patient,
      The statements you have received from us indicate a remaining balance of $xxxx for the dentistry we recently completed. We did your dentistry in good faith that we would receive compensation for the work that we performed.

      We want to work with you to clear this balance as soon as possible, so please call our office and ask to speak with Pat, our financial coordinator at (123) 456-7890. She will be happy to work out some suitable financial arrangements with you.

      If we do not hear from you within the next 10 days, our only option is to turn your account over to a collection agency. We hope this will not be necessary.

      Doctor's name

      Assess your financial coordinator's effectiveness through the monthly collection percentage. In many insurance-based practices, the collection percentage will vary widely. An average over three months is the best indicator. The industry standard is 98% or better. Make sure your business assistant is comfortable talking with patients about money — you must have the right person in the position.

      Dianne Glasscoe-Watterson assists dental practices in achieving their highest potential through practical, effective onsite consulting. Her continuing-education courses help dental professionals refresh their knowledge base and reignite professional passion. Visit Dianne's Web site at or e-mail her at [email protected].

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