Dental Debt Collection Tips: What to Do When You Collect Too Much
In a recent article from Dental Economics, the author Fred Heppner discusses an email he received from a dentist who was wondering how to handle patient credit balances or what to do when a patient overpays for his or her dental care. In the email, the dentist says he was given the impression that “local state law mentions that the doctor does not have to return any money owed to the patient if it is under $50, and the balance can simply be adjusted off under “Miscellaneous Adjustment.” The dentist felt however that it would be unethical not to tell patients when they have credit balances, as that money is rightfully owed back to them. The author agreed and said, “Of course the money should be given back; it’s the right thing to do! In terms of public relations, it will sink a practice if people know their dentist is keeping their money for his or her own benefit.”
What do you think? If your state laws did not require you to disclose overpayments (of under $50) to your patients, would you notify them anyway? Would the extra revenue be worth the risk of alienating your valued patients if they were to ever find out that you were keeping money owed back to them?
We believe the answer is obvious. Regardless of state laws and regulations, patients should always be told when they have overpaid for their dental care. Overpayments and credit balances typically result from insurance discrepancies or inaccurate treatment estimates and patients should be made aware of these errors as soon as they occur.
For dentists and other healthcare providers, maintaining a strong reputation among the community is extremely important to the success of their practice. As Fred Heppner put it, “it will sink a practice if people know their dentist is keeping their money for his or her own benefit.” After all, how do you think your patients would react if they found out you weren’t telling them when they accidentally overpaid for their treatment? Our guess is this would significantly damage both the relationships you have with your patients and the reputation of your dental office.
So what exactly should dentists do when patients pay too much?
We believe dentists should offer patients two options after an overpayment is made and the patient has a credit balance on his or her account. The first option would obviously be to simply return the money owed back to the patient. This could come in the form of a credit back on the patient’s credit card, or your office could write the patient a check for the amount overpaid. This option is quick and easy and would be sure to keep your patients happy in the event of a credit balance on their account.
The second option however we believe to be even more patient-friendly and beneficial to your billing and collection procedures. When a patient has a credit balance on his or her account, ask them if they would like to leave the extra payment as a credit to be used for future payments/treatment. By doing so, the patient is not only made aware of the overpayment, but is also encouraged to return to your office for dental care in the future by having this payment already applied to their account. This option would effectively maintain your practice’s valuable reputation, all while assisting with patient retention and future A/R management.
So check with your state laws and regulations regarding patient overpayments, but regardless of what you find, just remember that sometimes less (money) is more when it comes to running a trustworthy, successful dental practice.
YOUR TURN: How do you currently handle patient credit balances? Do you agree that regardless of what the law might say about small overpayments ($50 or less) that patients should be made aware of this money owed back to them? Or is this “Miscellaneous Adjustment” a legitimate source of revenue? We’d love to hear your opinion!
No Legal Advice Intended: This communication is for informational purposes only and is not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. This communication does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and I.C. System, Inc. You should contact an attorney for advice on specific legal issues.