Collecting patient payments can be a bittersweet experience, particularly in situations where insurance doesn’t cover a hefty portion of the bill and patients aren’t exactly well-off. Getting paid, of course, is necessary for any successful business, and dental practices are certainly no exception. The trick, then, is to find the right balance between offering patients practical options and making sure that all bills are paid within a reasonable timeframe.
Enter: modern technology.
Some of the best creations for many practices, dental and otherwise, are automated revenue cycle management tools for healthcare. These tools are generally software and hardware that allow your practice several different options to manage payments for patients who cannot afford immediate, up-front costs for all treatments.
These tools are especially useful for dental practices, whose offices see hundreds of patients each year who are either uninsured or are required to pay hefty out-of-pocket sums for dental procedures such as root canals, caps, and/or extractions. As patients age, these procedures become more common, even with a good daily dental hygiene routine, due to genetics or the gradual breakdown of enamel from age and use—and the price for such treatments can be costly.
With a system for managing automated payment plans, however, dental practices now have the option to more efficiently manage out-of-pocket costs for regular patients, with several options that are supported by the software systems. For example, PaymentCare, one such tool for revenue management, offers the following options:
The Automated Payment Plans tool lets dental offices set up payments at regular intervals with a fixed amount paid in total. These plans could last 30 – 90 days and prevent bad debt write-offs. Setting up an arrangement based on verified insurance coverage and expected costs on the day of the procedure, via a verified payment source, can make payment collection easy on both the patient and the practice’s bottom line.
For unique or more extended cost situations, the recurring payment plan option allows for no specific end date but at a specific fixed amount at regular intervals. For dental offices, this function might be less frequently used, but it’s a good option to have available for unique circumstances (particularly those unforeseen issues with insurance providers, for instance). Again, setting the expectations with patients up front is essential and having them sign an agreement based on the specific circumstances is essential. This will also allow for less hassle on the practice end and for patients.
Save on file.
Through this option, patients can save a preferred payment method on file and make payments for copays or anticipated costs. One dental office even used a save on file option that allowed for them to automatically charge any additional costs not covered by insurance up to $100 automatically to avoid issues. Unanticipated out-of-pocket costs above that amount required payment plans. For regular patients especially, the save on file option allows for quick and easy up front copays and can save time in the long run.
Still, even with payment plan options available, dental practices need to be firm, direct, and open with patients about costs and options. And sometimes, they even need to be a bit harsh. While trying to be accommodating is an admirable quality in many cases, it’s also a quality that will allow some patients to take advantage of your dental practice to get out of paying their bills entirely. Your practice needs to have procedures and policies in place to prevent any abuse of payment plan options, as well as good judgment on the part of billing staff to read the situation clearly.
There are plenty of options available today for dental practices who are struggling to get patient payments under control and bring in much needed revenue while still meeting patient needs. Take a moment to explore the technological options open to you, and you’ll likely find solutions you hadn’t even known existed.