Originally published in May 2010, Updated March 2014.
Are your front desk personnel trained to collect patient co-payments and deductibles at time of service? Do they know the amount of receivables due from each patient and their insurance company? If not, your practice could be losing a significant amount of income. Studies show that collecting payment from patients at the time of service maximizes your collection percentage and decreases collection costs. Taking steps now to collect every dollar earned will prevent your profits from slipping through the cracks. This article offers strategies to successfully collect payments at time of service and is geared towards helping your front desk staff achieve winning performance.
Attitude is Everything
A patient's first impression of your practice is their front desk experience. Your staff should be greeting patients by name, while presenting a professional attitude and appearance. They should be polite, and possess strong customer service and communication skills. Front desk staff must feel comfortable asking for co-pays and deductibles and indicate that payment is expected at the time of service. Their attitude needs to be friendly, yet firm. The dentists in the practice need to be supportive of the collection policy and refer all discussions regarding financial matters to the appropriate personnel, rather than discussing with the patient. Your office should have a clear, written financial policy, which should specifically state when you expect payment. This will empower your front desk personnel and send a clear message to patients.
Training is a Necessity, not a Luxury
Front desk personnel should receive training to be prepared for situations that arise when attempting to collect from patients. Starting from the time the appointment is scheduled; the patient should be informed that their co-pay and deductible is expected at time of service. After the patient's dental work is complete, they should be escorted to the front desk by a staff member. Your patient's comfort is a priority and we suggest asking your patients how they feel and offering them a cold drink. Patients are more likely to remit payment when they realize your staff is concerned about their well being. For those dentists participating with insurance, it is the practice's responsibility to submit the claim in a timely manner. Participating dentists are required to accept the fees negotiated with their insurance company and not pre-bill the patient for those fees. For those patients who have met their yearly deductible, the dentist can charge and collect the balance at the time of service, but remember that the fees are the negotiated fees as established by the insurance company of which you are a participating dentist.
We recommend writing scripts for the most common scenarios front desk personnel encounter. An example of a script requesting payment might be "Both your payment (or copayment) for this visit and your prior balance of $XX will be due at the time of service." Having a script reduces guesswork for the staff, and establishes common procedures that should be followed consistently by all front desk personnel.
Accountability is Key
After providing training to your front desk personnel, individual's performance should be measured and collection goals established. We recommend tracking daily performance, to determine who is performing and who may require additional training. If after re-training, goals continue to fall short, it may be more beneficial to replace underperformers. Be sure your performance reviews are documented and communicated to the underperforming employee. Also consider incentives for those who meet and exceed performance.
In Network or Out-of-Network
Does this scenario sound familiar? A patient calls to schedule an appointment asks if your practice accepts their insurance plan. Does your employee respond by saying we are not in the plan and hang up? Or are they trained to inform the patient that yes, your office accepts out of network benefits and then explain the patient's responsibility. Many people want the best dental care available. If patients are informed properly, they may choose to see an out-of-network dentist.
Knowing What to Expect
Early communication with patients when explaining their out-of pocket costs increases collections and improves patient satisfaction. This speaks true for the relatively minimal co-payment for routine care as well as a larger patient responsibility for other procedures. Knowing the financial expectations in advance decreases the patient's anxiety. There may be patients who do not have insurance or require some form of financial assistance. It is beneficial for your front desk staff to counsel uninsured or underinsured patients which can include working out payment plans or informing them of financial programs available to them. This also improves the probability of collections.
Using Technology Can Help
Using all the tools available to you can help increase collections. Most dental software has the capability to verify benefits in real time, submit claims, and obtain information on outstanding claims. Many practices have voiced positive feedback stating increased efficiencies and reduced administrative costs by utilizing electronic filing and claims inquiry, and collections follow-up.
In these difficult economic times, it is important that dentists maintain their profitability by being paid completely for services rendered. Implementing these steps in your practice will increase your collection performance and bolster your bottom line.
As published in the March 2010 Tri-Country Newsletter as well as the March 2010 issue of NJ Physicians.