Editor's note: Sally McKenzie was a powerful voice in the dental industry until her passing in 2020. We're sharing this article in the spirit of having her high-quality and insightful work live on and continue inspiring readers. Read more about her legacy in the dental profession from Chris Salierno, DDS.
Dealing with cash flow issues can be stressful, leaving you worried about the future of your practice. Low production and patients not paying on time are both huge contributors to cash flow woes, but both are issues you can overcome. If cash flow issues are holding back your practice, the time to act is now. Following these seven tips will get you on the right track.
Create a financial policy
When patients receive treatment, they should be expected to pay for services rendered. To make sure there’s no confusion about when payment is due, I suggest you create a financial policy. Verbally tell patients about their options and give them a physical or digital copy to sign. This will help ensure patients understand that payment isn’t an option, it’s required.
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Ask for payment
Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t receive. The team member responsible for collecting fees must know what treatment was provided and how much it cost. This information should be relayed from the clinical staff to the front office. If that’s not happening, you have a communication issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Break down treatment details
Simply telling patients how much they owe is not enough. Go over all treatment details so they understand exactly what went into the appointment. Instead of saying, “Mrs. Brown, that will be $225. Would you like to pay today?” say something like, “Dr. Smith completed fillings on two teeth covering five surfaces, plus medication and anesthetic in each tooth, for a total of $225. How would you like to pay today?”
Offering this level of detail helps patients appreciate what they received and better understand the cost of treatment. Also, notice the patient was asked if she wanted to pay in the first example. Given the choice, most patients will opt to pay later, so don’t give them the choice. Make it clear payment is due at the time of service.
Reach out to delinquent accounts
Calling patients with past due accounts is a task most team members dread, but it’s necessary. If you offer the proper training, the team member responsible for such calls will feel comfortable talking with these patients, and this will result in more money coming into the practice.
Remember, it’s important to be understanding when talking with patients about money owed. Always show compassion and be willing to work with them to overcome any barriers that are keeping them from paying. Instead of telling them their account is past due, for example, I suggest asking why they haven’t paid. Try to understand what’s going on and help find a solution.
At the end of the conversation, ask when you can expect payment. Remind patients how much is due and the date when they’ve agreed to pay before hanging up. I also suggest reviewing each account for payment history before picking up the phone, especially if insurance is involved, to make sure there wasn’t an insurance or filing error.
Offer third-party financing
Many can't afford to write one large check for expensive dental treatment. Offering third-party financing from companies such as CareCredit allows them to pay in small monthly installments, making treatment much more feasible. Giving patients this payment option makes it possible for them to get the treatment they need, while you grow practice production numbers.
What’s another benefit? Payment plans enable your practice to schedule the number of appointments required to complete treatment, not the number patients can afford. This means patients will be less likely to cancel at the last minute or not show up at all, reducing broken appointments and all the trouble they bring.
Talk to patients about your payment program
Offering third-party financing is great, but you won’t reap the benefits if your patients don't know it’s an option. Train team members to talk about financing options and to educate patients not only about its benefits, but of the possible consequences of not going forward with needed treatment.
Don’t just talk to patients about your program while chairside. Reach out to inactive patients as well. Knowing third-party financing is an option may prompt them to finally schedule treatment.
Don’t extend credit
Sure, this benefits your patients, but it’s a liability for you. Third-party financing is a much better option. The patient finance company becomes the provider, rather than you giving out interest-free loans. With this setup, you get paid right away, which reduces the number of existing balances.
Editor's note: Originally posted in 2020 and updated regularly