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Get The "Send Me A Statement" Syndrome Out Of Your Office!

by Debra McDonald

Is there really a way to avoid sending a statement? Oh yes, of course, the ever popular "PAY AT TIME OF SERVICE." Every-one knows that!

We simply say, "Will that be cash, check, or credit card?" and BINGO!--no muss, no fuss, we get paid and that's that. Yeah, right! Not in the real world of dentistry. In the real world, we cay "Cash, check, or credit card," and the patient says, "Oh, I don't have my checkbook today, just bill me." It happens every day in every dental practice.

If we examine why this occurs, we will see it is because we, the dental team, have put patients in a very difficult position. As a profession, we do a very poor job of informing patients of the cost of treatment in advance and we do an even poorer job of making clear what we expect of them when it comes to payment.

We usually wait until after the treatment is done and then ask our patients to pay a bill that they had no way of planning for. We force them to say, "I don't have the money today, could you just bill me?".

What our patients need is a way to pay for treatment that works within their family budget. They request a statement because they don't know what else to do.

Patients know that if you send a statement, they will then be able to take control of how to pay, when to pay, and in some cases, if they pay at all. Once you agree to send a patient a statement, you have given up all financial control.

However, if you always inform patients of fees in advance and then help them fit payment of those fees into their budget by offering several options for payment, you can maintain control of your fee collections and get the "send me a statement" syndrome out of your office.

This is where the new payment option, PAC, can help! It is a great option to offer patients because it helps them fit payment of dental fees into their budget and, at the same time, allows you to maintain the needed control. PAC is an abbreviation for Pre-Authorized Checking. It is an excellent addition to your list of payment options.

A PAC is simply a paper bank draft that you hold in your office and deposit on the due date, just as you would any other check. It transfers funds from the patient's account to your account. The mechanics are simple, it is extremely inexpensive, AND it provides you with an answer for your patients who ask "Can you just send me a bill?".

I discovered this terrific option quite by accident. I was working with EFT (electronic fund transfers) and having some specific problems with patient acceptance. It was brought to my attention that there was an alternative to EFT--it was PAC. The PAC is pre-authorized with the bank just like an EFT, but it converts the funds transfer from an electronic process to a paper transaction. This is far less costly for the patient and/or doctor.

The biggest benefit of PAC over EFT, however, is that it places the transfer in the hands of the dental office, not a third party transfer company. This is extremely important because of the very personal relationship you must maintain with your patients! Your patients want to know they are dealing with you when there is a question about payment. They do not want to be told that a computer somewhere has control.

By using the PAC method, your patients can simply call you if they do not get the funds to the bank on the due date of the PAC and you can deposit it a day or two later. With PAC, your patient can choose to come in and pay you off early and you can merely destroy the remaining PACs you are holding. It is extremely flexible!

Once your patients start using PAC and get comfortable with it, you will begin to see that they decide to go ahead and get treatment done that they had been putting off due to cost. It is a great practice builder!

An option like PAC provides something for your practice even when it is not the option the patient chooses, because it opens up communication! It allows you to say, "We no longer send statements, but if you need to spread those payments out a little bit, we can do that for you. We now handle that through pre-authorized checks or pre-authorized credit card payments."

This kind of dialogue will get patients talking about payment and working with you to find a solution.

It is not so tough to eliminate statements if you have other alternatives available. But remember, payment alternatives will work ONLY if you tell patients at this appointment what the fee will be for the next appointment and write it down on the appointment card. ALWAYS INFORM YOUR PATIENTS OF THE FEE FOR TREATMENT BEFORE TREATMENT IS BEGUN! ALWAYS! Even if you are doing one filling!

Now go an extra step and ask your patients if payment will be a problem! Open the door for your patients to discuss payment honestly and openly. Be ready to offer a payment solution that works for both you and your patients. Make payment arrangements a WIN-WIN situation and you really can avoid sending those statements!

Debra McDonald is founder and president of Trend Systems. She has made a career of specializing in payment strategies for dental practices.

Debra's focus is helping dentists with fee collection, communication, teamwork, and financial control. Therefore, she deals with getting rid of statements and the problems associated with them on a daily basis.

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