An easy four-step process to negotiating successful payment arrangements every time with every patient

Dec. 27, 2010

By Jan Keller

Wouldn’t it be nice if every payment arrangement interaction between your office and your patients went smoothly, with no awkwardness, misunderstandings, or embarrassment? Bottom line, you can make that happen. “Perfect” payment arrangements are possible if you follow these four easy steps:

** Gather information
** Prepare
** Negotiate
** Document

Here’s a look at each step in more detail:

1. Gather information
prior to speaking with the patient, including a discussion with the doctor one to two days prior to the consultation. If the negotiation process occurs on the same day as the appointment, excellent communication skills are vital. Repeating the recommended treatment plan (verbally) from hygienist to doctor allows the patient to hear it for the second time. Ask the patient if he or she has any questions before the Financial Coordinator (FA) takes over. If the patient is ready, the FA can start the negotiation process.

2. Prepare
where the negotiations will take place. A private, quiet area with computer access is ideal. If you do not have that available to you, have the treatment coordinator address it with the patient in the treatment room. Bottom line, be prepared, have all the information you need in hand (X-rays, etc.), and a written treatment plan. Be prepared, as well, for resistance or discussion. Failure to prepare will almost certainly lead to failure in gaining patient acceptance.

3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Let’s say Susie, the FA, presents the first payment option to the patient. If the patient is agreeable to this option, Susie moves on to documentation of the arrangement, gets the patient’s signature, schedules the treatment, and says “thank you.” Job well done!

However, if the first option is not acceptable to the patient, move to the second option according to your office guidelines. The key here is always stop and wait for the patient to respond. We’re often uncomfortable with silence and don’t allow patients a moment to think and respond before jumping in with the second and third options because we’re afraid they will say no. It’s okay if they say no! The goal is to negotiate until they agree. They have already agreed to the treatment – you are now negotiating how they will pay for it. Remember if patients have questions or hesitate, it does not mean they don’t want the treatment. It simply means you have not yet found the solution for them that makes it acceptable from a financial point of view.

4. Documentation is critical. Patients should always sign consent forms, as well as a federal truth-in-lending form which clearly defines the negotiated payment arrangements. Documentation is crucial even if the patient declines treatment. In this case, a declined treatment form should be signed, noting the reason the patient is delaying or declining the recommended treatment. Use your software to assist with this documentation, including creating reminders for follow-through if you have discussed contacting the patient in the future to discuss scheduling treatment.

Questions? Contact me at [email protected] with the word ‘negotiation’ in the subject line, and/or to ask for a free Truth in Lending Form.