Tips for contacting patients to collect past-due balances

No one employed at a physician's office enjoys the task of chasing down patients for late or overdue payments. It can be stressful, putting both the patient and the practice manager in awkward positions. Sometimes people lack the money, yet don't want to admit their financial situation. Other times, patients have been distracted by certain unfavorable circumstances, and the bill reminder is another stressor. Staff  can also be overwhelmed with work-related tasks, and calling patients to tell them to pay bills can add to the "to-do" list.

Be ready
The American Medical Association suggested organizing all materials before calling patients with past due reminders. Ensure you have the patients' most recent address, phone number and any other contact information; it can be embarrassing for everyone involved if a bill has been overlooked because it was sent to the wrong location. Then, be sure that all the communications are clear. Know how you will present the information to the patient, be it in writing or over the phone, and ensure that it is clear and can be understood.

The source also suggested that practice managers and physicians prepare staff for difficult conversations. This may mean that they require more training from a consultant or outside professional on how to handle crisis-like situations, such as patients becoming angry or threatening. Staff may also need advice on what to say to someone struggling with debt, as the individual on the other end of the phone may become emotional. Small gestures can ease the conversation, the source added, such as reminding staff say "please" and addressing the patients more formally. Finally, a script may be helpful in the beginning to guide employees' conversations.

Offer payment options
Giving patients some power over how and when they can pay may ease the collections process. If possible, offer a payment plan. This can be completed on a monthly or weekly basis. Talk with the patient and the staff as to how best to do this. Look into whether electronic or check payments will be acceptable for the patient, and inform them of everything they can do to eliminate the amount owed.

Collect payments when the patient is in the office
Many practices ask patients to pay when they come in for their appointments. This can sometimes be awkward if a patient is particularly ill or infirm, but Family Practice Management suggested that practice managers incorporate payment requests into their practice management systems. Have patients sign an agreement so they understand that they will be asked for money when they come for treatment. If this is something new, send out your policy changes either via email or in writing before they are implemented. Of course, not everyone will be reached (or will attend to your request) so you can also have them sign and review the same document when they come into the office.

Everything should run smoothly, most of the time, and this means that everyone who can will also have to contact and work with insurance companies, the source noted. Patients should be charged fairly and responsibly, so ensuring that they only pay their portion is essential to keeping everyone content. While not the most comfortable task in the world, you can better equip your staff to handle payment situations with grace and professionalism.

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Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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