Has Your Dental Debt Collections Approach Changed with the Times?

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Have you ever noticed the term your dental debt collections partner uses to refer to your patients? Do they call them debtors? Consumers? Customers? This may not seem significant, but how your collection agency refers to your patients can say a lot about their overall approach to debt recovery, and how “with the times” they are when it comes to treating your patients.

consult-smallOver the past decade, the debt collection industry has undergone quite a transformation. This has especially been true in the healthcare collections environment. The outdated, aggressive collection tactics of old have been replaced by the patient-friendly, compromising methods most utilized by debt recovery professionals today.

But what has brought about this change? Much of it can be attributed to the evolution of the healthcare regulatory environment. Federal regulators, especially in recent years, have begun to place much more importance on the patient experience, emphasizing terms like “patient protection” and “patient satisfaction.” And as a result, healthcare providers are now measuring their collections success by more than simply dollars collected. A growing trend in healthcare has been the newfound focus on achieving both quantity and quality collections. Meaning dentists and dental office managers like yourself no longer merely aim to maximize their dental recovery and minimize their bad debt, but they want to do so while also providing a positive patient experience.

From Debtor to Consumer to Customer

We believe this new approach to debt recovery can also be attributed to evolution of how people with unpaid debts (like your patients) are referred to.  As previously mentioned, the term or name you give your delinquent patients can (psychologically and realistically) play a large part in how they are ultimately treated by your internal collections staff or your collections partner.

Not too long ago, it was common in the debt collection industry (and in many places today, it still is) to refer to individuals with unsettled debts as debtors. This was during the “pre-patient satisfaction” days, when there was significantly less government oversight and debt collectors began building the reputation of “bully” amongst the general population. The term “debtor” seemed to instantly paint a negative picture of the individual who carried the debt and put collectors in the mindset of “I’m right, they’re wrong, and I can treat them however I’d like until the debt is paid.” This mindset is much less prevalent in today’s healthcare collections environment however, and even using the term “debtor” when referring to patients has become an industry faux pas.

In its place, the term “consumer” has become much more widely used and is considered a more politically correct way to refer to delinquent patients. While not only serving as a more “consumer friendly” way to refer to those who were previously known as “debtors,” the popularity of the term consumer has also brought with it an overall improvement in debt collection practices. The treatment of individuals like your patients (during the bill pay process) has become more empathetic and patient-friendly in recent years, and consumer complaints are decreasing as a result. And while there is no question that this overall change in how patients and consumers with unpaid debts are treated coincides with increased regulatory oversight, we also believe that by simply using a different term when referring to “debtors,” collectors are revolutionizing their overall attitude and approach to debt recovery – in a positive way!

What’s Next?

customer-service.0822.12We see collection agencies, healthcare providers, and dental practices such as yours taking this approach even one step farther. More and more in healthcare and debt collection circles in general, is the term customer being used when referring to a delinquent patient or consumer. In an effort to encourage collectors and office staff to provide enhanced customer service during the bill pay process, many healthcare and collections professionals are using the term “customer” to describe their slow-payers. This step, and the overall evolution from debtor, to consumer, to customer, has all been in an effort to facilitate an overall improvement in how individuals are treated during the debt collection process. By looking at your slow-paying patients as customers, you and your collections staff will focus on not only getting the bill paid, but will do so in a friendly, customer-focused manner as well.

Like we said earlier, the days of simply targeting the highest possible recovery rates, with no regard to patient satisfaction are over. Healthcare collections have become as much about the patient experience and patient retention as it has financial results. So take note of how your office administrators or collections partner refers to your patients. It may be a sign of whether they’re stuck in the old days, or if they’re evolving with the rest of us.

YOUR TURN: What term do you currently use when referring to delinquent patients? Do you agree with us that something as simple as a term or name can have an effect on a collector’s overall approach to debt recovery? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this and your impressions of where the healthcare collections environment is going!

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