Become a phenomenal financial coordinator

March 21, 2012
Issue 1

January 13, 2011  | dentalproductsreport.com Have you heard a lot of patients who need to schedule either hygiene or restorative treatment say, “I think I’m just going to wait because..." (Pick one)

January 13, 2011  | dentalproductsreport.com

Have you heard a lot of patients who need to schedule either hygiene or restorative treatment say, “I think I’m just going to wait because..." (Pick one)

  • I’m nervous about possibly being laid off

  • I really don’t feel comfortable spending any money that I don’t absolutely have to spend

  • My dental benefits don’t pay enough for my treatment

  • My dental benefits are maxed; I think I’ll just wait until next year


This still uncertain economy has many patients being very cautious about investing in their dental health. If something is not hurting, they may think that their treatment can be put “on the back burner”.

Often patients will say “yes” to treatment to the hygienist or dentist, and when they sit down with the Financial Coordinator to discuss fees, the “yes” turns into a “I’ll think about it and get back to you” or one of the other statements above,
Or “Can you send in a pre-determination of benefits for me?”

We never recommend “strong arming” patients into scheduling treatment. We do recommend partnering with patients and hanging in there with them to help them find a financial option that they feel comfortable with and that allows them to proceed with treatment.

Before the patient arrives at your desk, there needs to be some very important teamwork by the dentist, assistant and/or hygienist. Patient education, intraoral camera tours, and diagnostic photos are keys to teaching and showing the patient what treatment they need. Excellent communication skills and encouraging patients to ask questions are a must. A thorough patient debrief and an informative hand-off to the Financial Coordinator will make a seamless transition into financial arrangements. More about the important roles of the clinical staff in future articles.

Before we can get into the step-by-step process of financial negotiations with patients, you need to know the specific financial guidelines of your practice. If you have written guidelines, you are a big step ahead. If you don’t, arrange a meeting with your employer or supervisor and develop guidelines so that any member of the team can refer to them and make financial arrangements if they have to cover your position. Here is what you need to know:

  • What methods of payment does the practice accept? Cash, Check, which Credit Cards?

  • Do you accept assignment of insurance benefits?

  • Do you ask patients who have dental benefits to pay estimated co-pays at the time of treatment?

  • How does the office handle duplicate insurance?

  • Do you offer a courtesy adjustment for payment in full before treatment begins? If so, what dollar amount of treatment qualifies and what is the % of the courtesy adjustment--do you accept only checks or cash in order to extend the courtesy or do you accept credit cards as well?

  • Do you put financial arrangements in writing, have the patient sign them, then document the patient’s chart so that all staff can see that financial arrangements have been handled BEFORE treatment begins?

  • Do you extend monthly payments? If so, what is the minimum payment and how far out can you extend the payments

  • Do you offer outside financing like Care Credit?

  • How are financial arrangements handled for children of divorced parents?

  • Other specifics of your practice

 

Now the patient is in the front office with you. Make sure that you let incoming phone calls be answered by other team members or that they go to voicemail-patients with significant treatment need your full attention. Follows is the flow for your financial/insurance discussion with patients:

  • Give them a brief summary of the treatment they need

  • Reinforce why the treatment is important and necessary

  • Any time the patient looks confused or looks like they have lost their focus, pause and ask if they have any questions or comments

  • Then say, “The estimated fee for your treatment is ________”. Do not say “dollars” @ this point

  • “If you would like to take advantage of our ___% courtesy by paying in full for your treatment before we begin, that will be a savings of $_______”. This is when you do say “dollars”

  • If the patient responds with a “yes”, then ask if the patient would like to pay today; if not, make arrangements for when the payment will be in the office

  • If the patient is unable to pay in full, the next step is to ask, “How much of an initial payment can you make?”

  • If the patient gives you an amount of the initial payment they can make, you then make financial arrangements on the remaining balance

  • If the patient has dental benefits, back out the estimated benefit, and make financial arrangements on the balance

  • If no initial payment can be made, know how far out you can extend payments-Pride has a great debit/credit card form that you can ask for that will set up charging payments on a specific date for a specific amount-you must flag yourself to make the agreed-upon charges on the agreed upon date with an electronic reminder or with a paper calendar

  • Offer to assist the patient with an application to an outside financing company

What if none of the above works for the patient or the practice? How do you help this patient get the treatment they need. First, don’t give up. If patients see that you really care about helping them, they may be open to one of the following suggestions. Phrase each option with “Some of our patients have

  • obtained a loan from their credit union

  • obtained a loan from a relative

  • have planned their treatment around an income tax refund

  • have built-up a credit in our office by making monthly payments (you need to know the point when treatment can begin, and the patient can continue making payments)

If you have exhausted all of the options, and you may be exhausted yourself at this point, leave the patient with some hope, “I’m sorry that we did not find a financial option that works for both you and the office. What we do know is that patients’ circumstances can and do change in the future. What doesn’t change is the need for your treatment to be completed. Treatment can become more complex and costly in the future, so we hope that you can find a way to get it done”.

Lastly, if there is a dental school or clinic within fairly close proximity, can you give the patient that information?

By following all of these steps, you have done the very best that can be done to find a financial option for your patients. You have let  patients know that they are respected and cared about. You have increased the odds that patients will accept a financial option you have offered or pursue means to pay for their treatment. You have demonstrated that you are a phenomenal Financial Coordinator.