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Relieve the toothache of dental patient payments: 8 ideas to chew on

Dental payment patient plans do not need to be painful for dental practices. There are so many options today, so there is something out there that will make both dental staff and patients happy.

With the future of the American healthcare system up in the air, I began to think about the impact of proposed changes. Studies have shown that 40% of adults have no plans to visit the dentist in the next 12 months because of the cost. Because I’m in the field of payment solutions, my interest is piqued when I see cost as a barrier. So, I dived in and called a friend who owns a small general dental practice.

I asked him how his practice deals with collecting unpaid bills, and I was surprised that he really doesn’t have a large accounts receivable balance. Practices that require patients to pay their balance at the time of service are common in the dental field. My friend explained that offering payment terms was a risky practice, often resulting in bad debt and extra work, so very few practices allow patients to pay their bill over time.

He said the loss encountered when offering a discount for patients paying a balance upfront with a lump sum is worth it in order to save his practice the hassle of chasing down defaulted recurring payments. He said by receiving payment at the time of service, his staff isn’t tasked with hunting down overdue payments, and patients aren’t forced to go through a credit check for their root canals.

I asked my friend, “What type of client base growth would you expect to see if you changed your policy regarding payment terms. If the potential growth was substantial enough, would you be willing to change policies?” He answered, “Yes, most likely.”

Reviewing the risk factors
Offering payment plans has its risks, however, with impending industry changes and new technology available there has never been a better time for a review. Medical and dental providers don’t need to resort to selling off debt. They can adopt the same practices as agencies and reap the rewards.

Here are eight tips to help keep payment plan risks at bay:

• Don’t fear new technology
New technology doesn’t just benefit the person making the payment, it can also help reduce the risks for those accepting them. Preapproved payments can be set up through online portals that take installments directly from patients’ bank accounts or credit cards each month. Interactive voice response (IVR) systems replace manual staff tasks with automated telephone payment services, eliminating the chance of human error and saving both time and money.

• Increase options to increase payments
Nobody wants to spend their lunch break on hold trying to make a payment, but what option do people have when the payment office is only open 9 to 5? The inability to make a payment because a provider isn’t available to take it is one of the biggest reasons invoices go unpaid. Providing multiple options offers patients the ability to pay at a time and in a way that suits them. With so many payment solutions on the market, it’s easy to find ones you’re comfortable with and that meet the needs of your patients.

• Keep patients informed
The only way patients will know about their different payment options is if you tell them. Before patients leave the practice—and after the nitrous oxide has worn off—pull them aside and let them know they aren’t tied to making payments during business hours. For some, a new payment method may sound complex and won’t appeal to them. A quick demonstration of the different options will put patients’ minds at ease and save staff time in the long run.

• Take the hassle out of payments
Automation removes the hassle for all parties involved. Practice managers need no longer find time to send out reminder notifications and patients can get on with their lives knowing they don’t need to send off a monthly payment. Automated notifications can remind them when a payment is about to come out of their account and when it has been paid.

• Unnecessary fees can lead to major losses
Convenience fees are a risky business, and with vendors increasingly scrutinized over these, is it really worth risking being taken to court over losing a few dollars per transaction? Most collection agencies have eliminated the practice of adding convenience fees, and they cover the extra charges for processing a payment themselves. It’s important to look around for a processing partner that fits your budget and also provides a quality service—it’s never a good idea to skimp on quality for price.

• Discounts for speedy payment plans
Providing patients with an incentive to quickly settle their debt can increase the amount of money you’re likely to recuperate in the long run. For instance, offering a 5% pay-in-full discount, a 2% discount for a three-month payment term, and no discount for more than three to six months will motivate patients to put this debt at the top of their list to pay off.

• Call in the professionals
Without the right systems in place, keeping patient credit card details on file to charge at a later date is extremely risky. Payment technology providers are experts in this field, and they can ensure you remain both HIPAA and PCI compliant.

• No doesn’t always mean no
Not all revenue cycle management system (RCM) companies are keen to integrate with a new partner and prefer to maintain current relationships. The RCM providers are looking to process as many payments possible and aren’t always interested whether the technology provides the best value. However, if you find a payment provider that fits your business needs and generates a lot of payments, the RCM system provider will likely be persuaded.

Here are a few things to consider when looking for a payment technology provider: (1) Is their technology in-house or are they reliant on third parties? (2) Do they provide their own customer service? (3) What ratings and certifications do they have?

Brush away your doubts with these eight simple steps, become safe in the knowledge that compliance regulations and patient payments are taken care of, and enable you and your staff to focus on what you do best.