Quality vs. Quantity: A Growing Trend in Dental Debt Collections!

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In our post last week, we talked about how the dental debt collection industry has evolved in recent years and how collection professionals are now targeting both quantity AND quality collections when recovering unpaid patient debt.

But what do we mean by quality collections? And what are collectors (both internal office staff and 3rd party collectors) doing differently to achieve both of these goals?

qualityvsquantity11As mentioned in last week’s post, the days of simply achieving the highest possible recovery rates with little to no regard for the patient experience or patient satisfaction are over. In fact, many dental practices today are now viewing recovery results (dollars collected) as a secondary goal of the patient bill pay process, with patient satisfaction and patient retention as the primary objective. Put simply, dentists today still obviously want to get paid for the services they provide, but now see the patient relationship as equally (or more!) important to the success of their practice as the revenue received from a fee collection. 

We define a quality collection as when payment is successfully recovered, while at the same time the patient relationship has been maintained or enhanced in the process. Many collection agencies today even incentivize their collectors for both quantity and quality collections, meaning collectors not only receive bonuses for reaching their recovery goals, but are rewarded for collecting in a patient-friendly, positive manner as well – as made evident through patient thank you letters, recommendations, testimonials etc.

So how do collectors effectively collect an unpaid patient bill while still maintaining positive rapport and encouraging a long-lasting patient relationship? We compiled a list of strategies in our post, 10 Tips for Getting Paid While Maintaining Positive Dental Patient Relationships! Give it a read and find out how to get the most (money!) out of your collection efforts while avoiding the key collection mistakes that jeopardize valuable patient relationships.

Now at this point, you are likely asking yourself, why the change? Why have dentists and other healthcare providers just recently started placing such a significant focus on the patient experience and maximizing patient retention?

We believe this transition to a more patient-friendly, relationship-maintaining collections approach was triggered by the combination of the economic crisis of 2008 and the industry’s increased regulatory oversight in recent years.

The rise of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal agency largely responsible for regulating the consumer collection industry, has caused a serious shift in how healthcare-related debt is collected. Patient protection is at an all-time high as a result, and consumers are now offered numerous options for submitting complaints against creditors (such as you!) for violations made during the debt collection process. This growing presence by federal regulators has caused both healthcare providers and healthcare collection agencies to tighten the reins on their collection methods and place a newfound focus on providing a positive patient experience during the bill pay process. As John Telford recently stated in his article, Key Themes for the U.S. Debt Collection Market in 2014, the industry has shifted its focus “away from performance and firmly towards regulatory adherence…”

DentalThe other trigger that we believe led to this growing trend in dental debt collection was the U.S. economic crisis of 2008. Unemployment increased dramatically from 2008-2010 and Americans saw their overall wealth and disposable income decrease by such a large magnitude that the dental industry could do little to reverse the decline in patient visits, practice revenue, and net income. As a result, dentists saw their patient base levels fall to record lows and were forced to adopt a new approach to their collection policies. With more and more of the population out of work and without dental benefits, dentists experienced (and are still experiencing) poor practice growth and are therefore being required to rely upon current patients and recurring visits as their major revenue source. For this reason, collection methods in recent years have become much more patient-friendly and dentists and dental collection professionals have focused on not only collecting unpaid patient debts, but doing so in a manner that encourages the patient to come back for future treatment.

In conclusion, dentists can simply no longer afford to provide anything but the best possible patient experience during the bill payment process. Whether concerned about unwanted regulatory attention, or worried about losing a valued client and source of revenue, dental collection professionals now must do everything they can to facilitate payment without damaging an ongoing patient relationship. Ironically, in an industry once ruled by numbers and recovery rates, it seems that quality has begun to trump quantity when it comes to successful dental debt collection.

YOUR TURN: Do you agree? Do you place as much value on maintaining a patient relationship as you do recovering payment? What else do you think has contributed to this growing trend towards quality in dental collections? We want to hear from you!

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