Get dental patients to pay: the 6 C’s of collections
It can be difficult to encourage patients to pay the dental practice. But don't let staff be the ones who are the problem. Training, systems, and confidence will help staff collect payments.
The question I hear the most from front office staff is, “How do we get patients to pay?”
Even when we try to be proactive—by speaking to patients about their estimated portion, what the insurance will or will not pay, that they will owe for what the insurance does not cover—it doesn’t change how difficult it is to collect what patients owe us. They still seem to forget to pay or become upset with the dental office about having to pay.
This causes the team members responsible for collecting balances to become discouraged and feel like they’re fighting an uphill battle. As a result, collections percentages in dental offices either decline or, at the very least, plateau.
“Collections” is the big C word in dental offices, one that gets tossed around a lot but is often not addressed completely. If this area needs improvement in your office, implement the six C’s to help increase your collections.
Everyone on the team needs to develop strong verbal skills to discuss money and collections with patients. In order for patients to become comfortable paying, the team must be adept at discussing payment options, insurance estimates, and so on. Everyone on the team should be trained on this because patients will ask staff throughout the appointment about their payment options, not just at the end of their visits.
If the team keeps evading patients’ questions with responses such as, “Your insurance should cover this,” or “The staff up front can go over that with you,” then patients will become infected with the attitude of avoiding the topic. By the time someone is willing to discuss money in a forthright manner, patients may lose confidence in the team and focus on paying as little as possible rather than following their recommended treatment plans.
To ensure the office is paid for each procedure, there should be coordination of systems, policies, and team members. There should be a payment policy that everyone follows, and detail-oriented systems for transferring information between team members to ensure that nothing is dropped along the way. You need clearly defined systems for how each patient goes through the case presentation process. Well-executed handoffs are key to making sure that communication is passed effectively from one employee to the next.
Discussing money can be difficult, especially when it requires someone to pay right now. Those on the team responsible for payment need to be calm, collected, and confident when it comes time to ask for payment. If patients detect any wavering on the part of staff, they will be more likely to try to negotiate and less likely to pay. Confidence is much easier for the team members who have to ask for payment when they know there are coordinated office systems and they’re backed with the right communication along the way.
A major way to kill collections is by making the mistake of determining whether someone can afford treatment prior to case presentation and discussion with them. Everyone reading this article can cite times when patients walked in and you thought, “There’s no way that person can afford their treatment plan.” Then they paid with the cash they had hidden under their mattress! On the flip side, we’ve all had patients who live in the big houses and drive the fancy cars but have no money or credit to pay for their treatments.
Let these patients be reminders that you cannot judge a book by its cover. In the dental field this means we cannot judge patients based on what they drive or wear. Jumping to conclusions about what patients can or cannot pay does not allow the office to fully present to patients what they need, and it’s killing your collections. It also indicates the office’s need for a better customer service mindset. After all, if you’re busy making judgment calls about how much money patients do or do not have, you can’t pay attention to the reality of what patients are doing or saying to indicate what they need from the practice.
The treatment plans we’re presenting might involve payments of a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars. When we simply state the amount and ask patients how they want to pay, they will likely respond, “I don’t have that kind of money.” Too often, we hear this and assume it means that a patient cannot or will not pay. However, oftentimes what someone really means is that they don’t have the entire amount available up front or they’re not immediately sure how they’ll gather the funds.
At this point, the best course of action is to offer patients more choices. Invite a discussion about ways they can afford to receive the treatment. A great way to do this is to call up the payment calculator from CareCredit on the computer in the consult room and calculate what the monthly payment amount would be if the patient financed the payment. The next step is to ask, “If you could get the payment to this amount per month, would you be able to receive the treatment then?” This is great customer service because it puts patients at ease and makes them more likely to accept the treatment plans that are best for their dental health. Also, it’s true that patients who accept treatment in this way are more likely to help the office get paid.
6. Continual training
This final C is the most important one. The first five C’s can only be successful when the staff is well trained. It is important to get team members trained in order for them to confidently communicate payment choices to patients. But this is far from being a one-time training event. The information is so key to a practice’s success that the staff will need continuous training on collections. Over time, it is human nature to become relaxed and return to bad habits. Continual training and improvement will not only help in the area of collections but will also help in the overall collaboration of the team, which is a big bonus!
Now go and collect the money owed to your practice!
Laura Hatch has committed years of study to learning how to manage and empower team members, and partnered with her husband to build and manage two fee-for-service dental practices. Twelve years later, she founded Front Office Rocks, which offers web-based, on-demand front office training for dental practices. As the leading authority on virtual dental front office training, Laura helps dental professionals who want to be better at what they do gain the training they need through online video courses, live seminars, and coaching.