Medical billing process - Patient calls

Patient calling - step by step guide

Seven Steps To A Successful Collection Phone Call

A successful collector is very much aware of and trained in the following seven steps for a successful collection phone call.

Step 1: Identify the person you are calling

“ Hello. Is this George Smith?”
“Yes, it is.”

Before you tell the patient who is calling, identify the party you are trying to reach. You want to be sure you are talking to the right person. If you are calling George Smith III, you should ask who you are speaking to. Also, once a patient knows who’s calling, he or she may become a different party. Finally, even thought a physician’s office is not covered under the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), disclosure to a third party regarding another person’s delinquency isn’t a good practice. It’s a private matter between the physician’s office and the person who owes the debt.

Step 2 : Identify yourself

“Mr. Smith, my name is Jennifer Jones, and I am the accounts receivable manager for Dr. Martin Johnson. Dr. Johnson is a cardiologist located in the Oak Ridge building next to Memorial Hospital.”

Obviously this discussion can be quite simple, but you will learn in time that you can reduce the length of the call if you add a disclosure about where you are located and the specialty of the practice. By adding a title to your staff member’s name, such as accounts receivable manager, you will better position yourself for the next steps. Your tone of voice should be calm and friendly and reflect a positive attitude that will set the tone for the rest of the conversation.

Step 3 : Ask for payment in full

“Mr. Smith, our records indicate that there is a balance due on your account of $250.00 for a consultation Dr. Johnson did in December. Can we expect that payment in full in the mail by this Friday, or would you like to drop by the office today?”

Give the patient two alternatives, both of which encourage a positive response. Ask for payment in full even if the amount due is high. Even if your staff member feels it is unrealistic to ask for that amount, the point is that that’s what is owed. You can always come down, but you can’t go up.

Step 4: Psychological Pause

This undoubtedly is the most important step in the call. If the party doesn’t respond in 10 to 12 seconds, it may seem like a lifetime to you, but in essence you have told the patient everything he or she needs to know. It’s up to the patient to respond, and if you try to do it for the patient, you may be giving the patient ideas he or she never would have thought of independently. Therefore, no matter how long that pause lasts, wait for the response. Listening skills are very important. If the patient does not respond for a long time, ask whether he or she understood what you said.

Step 5: Determine the problem

“Miss Jones, I’m sorry, but I don’t have that much money right now. I can’t possibly send you $250.00 by Friday.”
Undoubtedly the patient will have a comment or objection. Learn what the problem is so that you can find a solution. In some cases the objection may be converted from “why I can’t pay” to “why I won’t pay.” If you have planned ahead, you should be able to answer questions right away, indicating that you know what you’re talking about and have control of the situation. Listen to what the patient is saying, discover what the real problem is, and deal with it. Ask questions but don’t put the patient on the defensive. You are trying to help the patient resolve a situation. Offer alternatives or, if necessary, suggest a payment plan both of you can live with.

Step 6: Find the solution and close the deal

“Mr. Smith, we have been very reasonable and have waited long enough. You could charge it to your MasterCard or Visa.”

“I don’t have any charge cards, Miss Jones.”

“Well, we expect you to send $100.00 by the end of the week and the balance by the end of next month. I think that is only fair. Don’t you.”

“Yes, Miss Jones. I will do just that.”

Try to negotiate a fair solution. Ultimately you are seeking payment in fill, but are prepared to offer suggestions toward a solution. Once you get a satisfactory resolution, close the deal. This undoubtedly will be difficult for an individual with minimal experience, but keep in mind that the overall purpose of the call is to control your receivables. Therefore, if you can’t resolve the problem, you do have alternatives. For example, you can tell the patient you have no alternative but to place the account for collection. You can put the patient on a payment plan or perhaps discount the bill. Finally, remember that you will not be successful with every call, and if you try to be, the whole exercise will be uneconomical. The objective is to collect what you can as quickly as possibly and move on.

Step 7: Confirm the arrangement

“Mr. Smith, let me clarify what we have just discussed. You are going to send $100 to Dr. Johnson by Friday and the balance of $150 by the end of next month. Is that correct?”

“Yes, it is.”
“Thank you, Mr. Smith. I will make a note in your file, and after I receive your $100, I will send you a new statement and return envelope for next month’s payment. Your address is still 2212 Harbor Street, isn’t it?”

Once you get the patient to commit to making a payment, the call doesn’t stop there. Reaffirm with the patient the amount he or she is going to pay and the day when he or she is going to pay it. Be sure the patient has your correct address, and if it is an extended payment plan, you should acknowledge that in writing, keeping a copy on file so that there will be no misunderstandings. If you promised something, be sure to follow through. Record the outcome in the patient file, carefully noting any disputes that have arisen during the conversation.

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