The economy is reportedly beginning to turn around, albeit slowly, which is good news. But we’re not out of the woods yet and your practice may be feeling the pinch as patients struggle to pay you. Certainly, they value your services and want to keep their accounts current, but buying food and paying utility bills may be higher on their priority list right now. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help keep cash flowing into your practice, even during this difficult economy.
Set an expectation. Create a written financial policy for your office, one that’s easy to understand and not too long. Consider an FAQ format for simplicity. Post the policy on your website and give a copy to each new patient who visits your office. Having a written policy sets the expectation in the minds of patients that you intend to be paid for the services you provide. It also gives staff a document to rely on when patients have questions about payment issues.
Collect at the time of service. This sounds obvious, but far too many offices allow patients to waltz in for care and out again with “bill me” as their parting words. Make it clear when you schedule appointments that co-pays and other balances due are payable at the time of service. Patients who “leave their checkbook at home” should leave the office with a return envelope and a request that they mail a check the following day. Follow up by phone if no check is received within five days. Yes, this is time consuming, but less costly in the long run than sending a statement (or multiple statements) or waiting weeks or months for payment, which sends a message that late payments are acceptable in your practice.
Accept credit cards. If you’re not already accepting major credit cards at the time of service and as an option for patients to use when paying bills by mail, now is the time to start. Check with the bank where you have your business accounts to find out how to get up and running with credit card processing, or Google “accept credit cards” to find vendors.
Offer payment plans. No, you’re not a bank or finance company, but offering patients a reasonable payment plan might be a good solution in certain cases. If, for example, someone owes a few hundred dollars and can’t put the balance on a credit card, better to accept $100 a month than write off the balance or send a long-standing patient to collections. There are some rules associated with payment plans, so check with your accountant and create a policy that you follow carefully.