How to have an ironclad collection system in your dental practice

Aug. 3, 2013
Author Denise Ciardello tells you about four areas of the collection system in the dental practice that must be monitored thoroughly every month.

By Denise Ciardello

Working in healthcare, our main focus is on patient care; yet it is just as crucial that we keep our eye on the business side of the practice, without seeming like money-grubbing ogres. As with any system in a business, the collection system is only as good as the protocols that are created. The essential part of creating processes is implementing and utilizing them appropriately.

There are four areas of the collection system that must be monitored thoroughly every month.

Financial Policy
A written financial policy should be presented to all patients. To lessen the possibility of patients not knowing what the policy is, having all patients sign it is an excellent idea. Be sure to maintain a copy of the signed document. This policy is the rule by which all financial arrangements are made. Any questions about how a procedure is to be paid? Refer to the rule. There are three factors to consider when creating your financial policy:
1. Make all payment options transparent (e.g., “We accept Visa, MasterCard, cash, and CareCredit”).
2. Offer incentives so patients will pay early.
3. Not one patient is seen before everyone knows what the payment arrangements are.

Your financial policy will be determined by the dynamics of your office. A fee-for-service office may have fewer options to offer the patients than an office that is in network with several insurance companies. (If you are in need of a financial policy, please email us at [email protected].)

Insurance Payments
For some offices, payments received from insurance companies make up the lion’s share of the practice’s collections. It is essential that you maintain a handle on these accounts, as well as enter payments for these correctly. All practice management software has specific steps in regard to inputting insurance payments efficiently. Make sure that you are trained in the appropriate processes for effective methods. (Refer to our article, “Optimizing Insurance Systems,” for complete instructions.) Although insurance assists in covering some of the patients’ fees, the patient may still have to pay their portion, and/or copay. Preferably this should be collected when the patient has the treatment started/completed. Collecting the patient’s portion at the time of service will save you oodles of time and resources otherwise spent on chasing money.

Sending Statements
When we begin working with a client, we find that the chore of sending statements is typically scheduled once a month. This is often a mammoth undertaking that can consume the entire day. It is habitually delayed due to the lack of time to complete this nightmare project. We recommend sending statements out on a biweekly, weekly, or even daily basis. The task is less cumbersome, with an added bonus of having money flowing in on a continual basis. Most practice management software systems will allow you to dictate when you want to send statements.

Every office is going to have those patients that make promises yet don’t follow through with their payments. You may need to go through a collection process to ensure payment from them. Make sure to check the collection laws in your state before beginning this process. The first step in the collection process is, of course, sending the statements. If you are not getting a response from your statements, the next step is to make a phone call.

Some important points to remember when calling patients to collect money:
• You have to talk to the patient.
• You cannot leave a message with the person that answers the phone or on the answering machine saying they owe you money.
• Collection laws dictate when you can call and how often.
• You can call people at work, but if they ask you not to, you must stop.
• Don’t feel guilty about collecting what is owed. You didn’t fail to keep your word; the patient did, and you are within your rights to expect to collect.
• Keep your cool and don’t let yourself get upset. It’s the patients who should be upset because they have neglected their commitment to pay.
• Be persistent but don’t be a bully.
• Have compassion and always treat people with respect and dignity, even if it is not reciprocated.

Chasing money can be an exhausting and revolting task; make it easy on yourself by collecting the patient’s portion as soon as possible. If there is money still owed after the claim is paid, send a statement out immediately. Remain mindful of the collection laws and always give your patients the dignity and respect they deserve. Collections are an important system in any business that needs constant attention. By following simple, straightforward steps, you will be available to focus on patient care.

Denise Ciardello is a respected professional in the dental consulting industry and a co-founder of Global Team Solutions, a practice management consulting firm specializing in team building and team training. She can be reached at [email protected] or (210) 862-9445.

Also by Denise Ciardello:Three steps for efficient insurance systems in the dental practice