Changing Times Means Changing Expectations in Dental Collections
Do you remember the days when collection calls consisted of simply dialing one of your patients and asking for payment in full? And then they actually paid you, or mailed a check that day?
Well that was then…and this is now. The economic crisis of 2008 had a profound impact on nearly every business and industry in America – including the dental industry. And as a dentist or dental office manager, you almost certainly have experienced this impact firsthand. As we discussed in last week’s post, the rise in unemployment and simultaneous drop in overall wealth has caused American’s to fall behind in their medical bills. As a result, your practice has likely faced decreased revenues, fewer patients, and increased bad debt in recent years. Your patients are paying slower and in smaller amounts, which means you probably have had to change your approach to billing and collections.
So what exactly have dentists had to change as a result of these trying economic times? Mostly their expectations…
In today’s dental collections environment, both the overall goal of the collection call and the collector’s expectations have undergone a transformation. Collectors (both administrative staff and outside collection professionals) have shifted away from demanding that patients immediately pay their bill in full, to a more accommodating and compromising approach to debt recovery. More specifically, patient payment plans have become a popular solution for getting slow-paying patients to pay their bills. Many dentists offer their patients arrangements where the patient pays a specific amount by an agreed upon date each month, so as to help lighten the financial burden of a large dental bill. Other payment agreements include installment plans, partial payment plans, or deferred payment arrangements. In any case, the key is to find a mutually agreeable payment arrangement that works for both your patient and their financial needs, as well as the financial needs of your dental practice. After all, it is better to agree upon a payment plan that takes time but eventually gets you paid in full, than to demand payment right away and risk alienating a patient and risking payment all together.
Just remember, in dental debt collection, compromising doesn’t mean conceding. Sometimes payment plans are the best way to not only get patients to pay their bill in full, but to maintain a valued, long lasting patient relationship as well. As you continue to manage your accounts receivable and patient debt, don’t forget to manage your expectations as well. Times have changed for both you and your patient base, and in today’s dental environment, patients will often simply need more time or more flexibility in paying off their bill.
YOUR TURN: How have your dental collection practices, as well as your expectations changed in recent years as a result of the sluggish economy? Have you found that patients are more willing to pay their bills when you offer more flexibility and time to pay off their account? What have been some of your biggest challenges in managing your accounts receivable? We want to hear from you!