We’ve talked a lot about billing this month—and while it’s all super important information, it won’t do you much good unless you know how to actually collect for what you bill. So here are nine collection tips to help you bring in what you’re worth (adapted from part one and two of this article written by Lea Anderson and this blog post from our very own Heidi Jannenga, PT, MPT, ATC/L):
1. Develop and display your payment policy. (Then, enforce it.)
This includes when and how you’ll collect payments and copayments as well as your cancellation policy. Essentially, it’s your way to ensure that you and your patients are on the same page as far as financial responsibility and timeliness so there are no surprises. Display your policy in a prominent location on your website and in your front office. Then, provide your patients with a copy to sign on their first—or next—visit to your clinic. In doing so, they acknowledge that they agree to and understand the policy. You also may want to provide patients with a brief overview of your policy when they call to schedule appointments. That way, they’re prepared when they arrive.
2. Train your staff.
Beyond simply telling your patients about your policy, you must also follow through on it. Sure there are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, it’s important to remain consistent—and that means your front office staff has to know your policy backward and forward as well as how to enforce it. According to the APTA, you can encourage payment by asking patients, “How would you like to pay? Credit card, cash, or check?” instead of asking “Would you like to pay today?” You also may want to consider implementing an incentive program to encourage your staff to increase collections.
3. Make it easy for patients to pay.
Speaking of encouraging patients to pay, it helps to make it easy for them. Jannenga suggests installing a credit or debit card transaction machine, keeping petty cash available to make change, and embedding an online bill pay portal on your website. The more methods for payment you make available, the fewer excuses you’ll hear.
4. Invoice regularly (and request address service).
Always file electronic claims within 24 hours of the patient’s visit, and send statements regularly. According to Anderson, the latter “will set the tone for systematic billing and, in turn, faster collections. [Patients will] realize you are not lax on billing and [therefore will be] less apt to risk having their account go into collections.” She also recommends using the post office’s “address service requested” service for all patient statements because many patients won’t remember to tell you they moved. Simply write or print “address service requested” on the envelope and, if the recipient has moved, the post office will provide you with the new address for a nominal fee. As Anderson says, “It’s a small price to pay to keep in touch with your patients...”
5. Follow up on overdue accounts.
Do your best to collect overdue accounts when patients are in your office, instead of waiting to send a bill. You’ll be much more influential in person. If this isn’t an option, Anderson says that sending a “friendly reminder every ten to 14 days will help you collect a higher percentage of those past-due accounts.” And the best way to stay up on who’s up to date—or plans to be—and who isn’t is to set alerts to systematically and regularly review your aging sheet. After all, numbers don’t lie.
6. Acknowledge and fix mistakes.
Anderson points out that some patients don’t pay their bills because they believe you shouldn’t have charged them for what you did. So if your office did make a mistake, acknowledge the error, apologize for it, and then fix it—immediately. Patient trust is extremely important, and handling a billing mistake in the wrong way could do some serious long-term damage.
7. Comply with state laws.
Every state has different collection laws, and according to Anderson, some apply the same laws to professional offices as they do to collection agencies, “which means you may not be able to call patients at odd hours or disclose to a third party that someone owes you money without serious consequences.” If you have any questions regarding the collection laws in your state, contact your state’s department of finance immediately.
8. Consider outsourcing.
You’ve got a lot going on in your clinic, and chances are there are plenty of other things you and your staff would rather focus on than chasing down rogue patients and convincing them to pay their bills. So you may want to consider outsourcing some of your collections tasks—specifically those related to patients who are consistently more than 60 to 90 days late—to a collections agency. Anderson also suggests bringing in a flat-fee collection service or an attorney and maybe attending small claims court to recoup your missing funds.
9. Know when to stop.
You’ve made a valiant effort to collect your payments, and that’s fantastic. But no matter how hard you try, you probably won’t be able to collect them all—and that’s okay, because no one does. Anderson says that the sooner you’re able to identify the “handful of accounts that are simply uncollectable” and write them off, the better off you—and your staff—will be.
There you have it: nine tips for better collections. Have some more? Share them with us and your fellow therapists in the comments section below.