Of course, not wanting to offend your patients shouldn’t stop you from doing everything you can to collect on delinquent accounts. You just need to approach the situation in a way that isn’t going to damage the relationships you worked so hard to establish. After all, your practice needs to retain patients to stay in business.
Phone calls and email follow-ups are usually enough to obtain payment from late-paying patients, as most patients have every intention of getting their accounts squared away. In fact, according to a McKinsey survey of retail healthcare consumers, 98 percent of patients want to pay their medical bills, but they’re confused about what they owe, need reminders from their physician, or lack the financial resources to do so. In the case of these patients, an aggressive letter isn’t going to do the trick.
Instead, physician practices should rethink their strategy and consider rewriting their medical collection letters with the following three thoughts in mind:
Watch Your Language and Tone
A good collection letter should convey urgency without being intimidating. Patients will lose trust in your judgment if you make threats about “final warnings” and turning their accounts over to collections. More importantly, they are going to be even less inclined to pay.
How can you stress the seriousness of the situation without crossing the line? Try incorporating messages into your collection letter like, “We understand that you may be experiencing financial difficulties, however, we rely on payment from each one of our patients in order to continue providing quality medical care.”
Focus On The Facts
Instead of mentioning an attorney or the fact you might turn their account over to a credit bureau, stick to the facts. Let the patient know what they owe, what services the bill is for, and what their options are. Offering to help the patient understand their medical bill can be much more effective than making them feel like they need to pay “or else!”
Draft More Than One Letter
The collection letter you send to a patient whose bill is 30 days past-due should be different than the letter you send a patient who you haven’t heard from in three months. The first letter should be more friendly, like you’re just checking in: “We’re following up to remind you about the $92 you owe our practice for your most recent lab work. Please call our office to coordinate payment. We are more than happy to discuss your account with you at any time.” For patients you haven’t collected from after subsequent attempts, you’ll need to be firmer. “If we do not receive payment or hear from you by November 1, 2013 we will need to consider taking alternative action.”
Remember, on average, only 2% of patients believe they shouldn’t have to pay their medical bills at all. Not even a collection letter, no matter how masterfully drafted, is going to convince this group. Sending them to a medical collection agency is inevitable.
What your practice has to focus on are the patients in the 98% – those who want to pay but for whatever reason haven’t done so. For these patients, a carefully worded letter can persuade them to mail the payment or pick up the phone to discuss financing options.
What medical collection tactics have proven effective for your practice? Let us know in the comments section below. In the meantime, sign up for the Power Your Practice newsletter.
Amanda Guerrero is a content writer specializing in EHR, healthcare technology and Meaningful Use. In addition to maintaining her own health IT-related blog, she contributes to websites such as HealthTechnologyReview and HITECHAnswers.net.[do action=”separators”/]
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