PAYMENT AT THE TIME OF TREATMENT Can you achieve the “Impossible Dream?”

PAYMENT AT THE TIME OF TREATMENT Can you achieve the “Impossible Dream?”

One of the most critical tasks necessary for a dental office to improve its “financial health” is to collect for services at the time of treatment. Unfortunately, it is a task most dentists find, not only difficult, but also downright distasteful. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be! All that is necessary is that the dentist and staff have a simple understanding of what I call the “psychology of patient payment.”

Statistically, 72% of patients will attempt not to pay at the time of treatment. We’ve all heard the excuses. “I forgot my check book.” “Darn! I just used my last check!” “My spouse pays the bills.” “My insurance should cover this, can you just bill me?”

For the most part, these excuses are, to be kind, less than truthful. You can be sure of that fact when you consider that less than 1% of the population leave home without some form of payment in their pocket. Granted, it is a sad commentary on human nature that so many people are willing to misrepresent the truth, but to give people a break, much of it stems from habit. It is ingrained and handed down from generation to generation that you just don’t pay a doctor on the day of the office visit. So, no matter how good an office manager is at persuading patients to pay, it is much like a severely strict parent who “forces” a child to lie.

The key to success is all in the timing. The patient is in control on the way out of the office. It doesn’t matter if a doctor accepts cash, checks, credit cards, or, as in the old days, will trade chickens for services. If the patient doesn’t want to pay, they won’t! This in no way means that a practice shouldn’t accept all traditional forms of payment (I’ll leave chickens out of the list). On the contrary, credit card acceptance, for example, has been proven to dramatically increase payment at the time of treatment, provided, that is, that the proper timing and practice management techniques are utilized.

One way to assure the bill is paid on the day of treatment is to tactfully get the patient to commit to some method of payment while they are still in the waiting room. That is the point when the office manager is still in control of the situation. This may be achieved by formulating a “financial policy” letter which must be filled in by the patient and signed along with their medical history form. This type of commitment makes it virtually impossible for a patient to claim they cannot pay as they are leaving the office. Furthermore, if the patient truly cannot pay that day, at least you will be aware of that fact up front. This will afford you the luxury of being able to make an informed and intelligent choice of whether or not to begin a major treatment.

Now, don’t be concerned about the possibility of insulting your patients with this technique. You should write the “financial policy” letter in such a way that explains to the patient that you have “expanded” your payment policy to “better serve” them. Of course, you can’t only say you have expanded your policy, you must also do so. Credit card acceptance is one way to accomplish this; however, retail card processing companies only offer the over-the-counter, card swiped, retail method of credit card acceptance. A well-trained Practice Management Consultant can inform you of a few new ways to accept payment. For example, there are new forms that will allow your patients to use their personal credit card to “guarantee” any amount that is not covered by their insurance. Using the same form, you can also set up an automatic credit card payment plan for on-going treatment.

A patient will not be insulted when approached in this manner and you will also protect them, as well as yourself, from any hard feelings in the future. The happiest patient is the patient who is paid in full. In fact, the #1 way a doctor loses a patient to another doctor is to allow a patient to become delinquent in payment. Thus, collecting at the time of treatment both improves the doctor-patient relationship and actually increases the number of procedures a doctor performs.

The “bottom line” is that few patients, if any, should exit a dental office without either paying the amount due, or, at the very least, guarantee future payment with their credit card. With the help of a qualified Practice Management Consultant, “payment at the time of treatment” goes from being an “impossible dream” to a very attainable reality!

Frank Shiner is the President and CEO of Retriever Medical / Dental Payments Inc., a practice management / credit card processing company. Retriever has been endorsed by The Ninth District Dental Association since 1993 and offers reduced credit card processing fees for members. You can utilize Retriever’s entire practice financial management plan for the same or less cost than you are currently paying for your retail credit card processing program. You may call Retriever at (914)238-1031 to set an appointment for a free, in person, consultation. Our Ninth District Representative will prepare for you a dollar-for-dollar comparison between your current provider and Retriever.

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