Overcoming Objections: How to Make a Successful Patient Collections Call
If I were to ask you what is the most effective method of collecting patient balances, would you know? Data shows that face-to-face is the most effective way to collect patient balances. If you miss this valuable face-to-face opportunity, the success rate of collecting declines dramatically. The second most effective way to collect is through highly-trained, professional telephone calls and the least (yet most frequently used) method for collection notifications and communicating with a patient is by sending billing statements/letters.
Start making calls today. Delinquent account calls need to begin at 30 days – not 60 and definitely not 90 days after the balance is due; as the weeks drift by, so do the chances of collecting on the account. A survey conducted by the Commercial Collection Agency indicated that after just 3 months, the probability of collecting drops to 73%. After 6 months, the probability of collecting drops to 57%. After 1 year, the chance of ever collecting on a past due account is a dismal 29%. Like it or not, you can’t afford to let these accounts sit.
Collecting past due balances takes consistent efforts, and calling patients to discuss their past due account is not usually a task that business staff looks forward to accomplishing. Success comes to those who know the rules of the game. Whenever you know the rules, and have planned out your conversation, it becomes easier to pick up that phone and make a successful contact. If you follow the 7 pre-call planning steps below, you will be ready to make all of those past due account calls:
- Find out if the office is at fault. Check the account and make sure the services rendered and the account match. Has everything been posted including any payments or adjustments? Next, check to see if the patient has complained about treatment since the time of treatment or since the recent billing. Has the concern been settled? Has there been a problem with insurance that has not been adequately handled? Resolve all of the account problems and then proceed to the next step.
- Evaluate the previous collection attempts. Determine if there were any letters sent, what the past collection conversations were about, who made the calls, and what were the results? Who was spoken to about the account and was there any follow-up to the original efforts? You are looking for anything that was done so you can refer to it and not have the patient tell you someone else handled it or that promises were made and they are taking care of it. If the patient knows more than you do, you will end the call without reaching an agreement for payment.
- Discover the patient’s past payment record. If they have always been good in the past, your approach might be: "I am calling about your past due account and in order to help you maintain a good credit rating with our office, I need to have your account paid." If they have a bad history, this would cause you to strengthen your efforts from the beginning. Check to see if they are always overdue 60 days, do they make a payment only every other month, do they not pay in the summer, at Christmas time etc.? In other words, look for their payment patterns, and then you will know how to word your request for payment.
- Find out the right person to speak to. Will this be the patient, the parent, the responsible party, or the spouse? By law, you cannot discuss a patient's account with anyone but the patient or the responsible party. It is important to never leave messages on a recorder, voice mail or with another person detailing the account. Just leave a message asking the responsible party to return your call.
- Decide the potential payment options your office will offer. Include specific amounts with specific time frames so the patient will know that they must be on time and not pay at arbitrary dates. Your options must also be reasonable and realistic. Include the word acceptable in your language with the patient. "Will 2 equal payments be acceptable to you?" You patients will say it is not comfortable for them. Keep in mind that we do not make financial arrangements around the word comfortable. It needs to be acceptable to both parties. Be prepared when the patient says they can't pay the whole account balance. You should respond with "How much are you short?" Inquire as to when their payday is and set the payments according to each payday. Ask for all of the payments now by having the patients utilize credit card on file for the payments. Send them the form and have them fax or email the signed form back. You can get verbal approval for the immediate payment and I recommend that if you are giving them extended payments, you utilize a credit card on file release form. You must sell your payment plan. Remember the patients are wondering “what's in it for me, what will happen if I don't pay?” You want to include in your conversation that if you can reach agreement on the payment options, you will be able to protect their credit rating with your practice and assure their continued care.
- Prepare fact-finding questions. These need to be open-ended questions such as: "What happened in the past couple of months that have caused your account to become delinquent? Perhaps I can help."
- Prepare your opening statement. You must identify yourself, the doctor and practice and your statement of purpose. "Good morning, Mrs. Jones, this is Mary calling from Dr. Brown's dental office. I'm calling about your account balance." At this point it is important to pause and not say another word. This pause will allow your patient to respond. Most times, they will tell you what the problem is or promise to take care of the balance. Their comments at this point will tell you which direction the rest of the conversation is likely to go. If the patient promises to send the balance due, tell them thank you and that you are making a note on your calendar to expect it in full in the mail in the next 5 days. If the patient explains their delinquency problems, you need to use a bridging statement to explain the options you have to offer. "From what you have just told me, I think I have a plan that will make it easy for you to bring your account up to date and at least we can take that worry off of your hands." When a patient hears the words “easy” and that you’ll take away their worry, they will be listening to your options. This bridging statement also shows that you are interested in helping and it focuses the patient on your options.
Overcoming objections is the hardest part of a collection call. Keep in mind that most objections are just postponements. Determine what specifically your patient is objecting to, then state the parts they agree with and seek agreement step by step on the rest.
When closing your calls, summarize the plan and thank your patient for their cooperation. When you summarize, be very sure to give the date the payment is expected in your office and that you will be following up on it. Inform the patient you are making a note of this conversation for the doctor's information. Remember that your ultimate purpose is not to collect the payments; it is to solve the delinquency problem. Most patient accounts that slip past due are because they have no specific agreement to pay. Call and help your patients to make that agreement.
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Cindy Ishimoto has over thirty years of experience in the dental industry, initially as an assistant and business auxiliary, then progressing to a management position, and now as a dental consultant and speaker acknowledged by Dentistry Today as one of the leaders in dental consulting from 2006 through 2014. Her knowledge of all facets of dentistry, people skills, motivation and communication are reflected in her ability to teach and train. Cindy's love of people and dentistry enable her to share her enthusiasm to build successful, people-oriented businesses. Cindy can be reached at
808-375-7344 or online at CindyIshimoto.com.