Help yourself move into a higher collections percentage on past due balances by using these tips to work with overdue accounts.
Help me to help you!” I love that line in Jerry Maguire. It sums up the old truism that help comes after we help ourselves. This can be especially true when it comes to collecting from patients with past due accounts. By spending a little time gathering accurate information and “working” our past due accounts before we send them to collections, we have seen dramatic increases in our ability to collect unpaid balances.
Helping Ourselves to Collect
To make sure no one has slipped through the cracks as we follow our regular “collect at the front desk” guidelines, our collections routine starts with using the Dentrix Collections Manager.
To start the Collections Manager, open the Office Manager and click Analysis > Collections Manager. You’ll be prompted to select search criteria so that you can limit your list to only past due accounts. (For more help in choosing your search criteria, see the Setting up a view for Collections Manager topic in the Dentrix Help.)
Once we have the report open, we follow a quick process for accounts that need to be paid:
1. Send a statement. If we can see that the account is recently past due, we select the guarantor in the Collections Manager and then click the Ledger button. From the guarantor’s Ledger we can then click the Process Billing Statement button to send a statement to the patient right away.
2. Send a courtesy letter and make a phone call. We created our own collection letters and mail merge them using the Quick Letters feature in Dentrix. In addition to our standard courtesy letter, we have several different letters we use as the situation requires. For example, we have letters for when patients have stopped making payments or when they’ve only made a partial payment. Quick Letters makes it easy to quickly generate the most appropriate letter right from the Collections Manager. After selecting the guarantor in the Collections Manager, click the Quick Letters button. Next, select the letter you want to merge and click Build/View.
The letter opens in Microsoft Word with the patient’s name, address, and other pertinent information merged. Simply review the letter, make any changes, and click File > Print to print the letter. I really like how Dentrix automatically adds a note to the Office Journal indicating the date the letter was created and the letter name. That way, if patients want to talk about the letters they’ve received (or they claim they’ve never received), I have a readily available history of our correspondence.
3. Send a second, more forceful letter and make a second phone call. In addition to being able to use our customized Quick Letters, the Collections Manager also helps by making phone calls a snap. By selecting the patient I want to contact and then clicking the More Information button, I can see a list of all the available phone numbers for the patient.
Plus, I can click the Add Journal entry button to record details about the conversation with the patient.
4. Decide to either write off the balance (if it’s less than $100) or send it to collections. For patients that continue to ignore us (and that have an account balance over $100), we send the account to a collections agency. I’ve worked with several different agencies over the years, and we’ve settled on one that makes phone calls rather than just sends letters since we’re handling that on our own.
Helping Your Collections Agency to Help You
Despite our best efforts, we still wind up with past due accounts that we must send out to a collections agency. But, after a recent performance review with our collections agents, I discovered how much we could help them to help us. At my request, the agency completed an Integrity Analysis Report that revealed some very interesting trends. The agency was only able to collect 12 percent on accounts where we provided them with a correct address but the phone number(s) were disconnected or wrong. However, if we provided them with a working phone number and a correct address, their collections jumped to 40 percent. Even more amazing, if we could also provide them with valid work and home phone numbers, the agency was able to collect about 75 percent of the balances owed. (To put that in actual dollar amounts, if we had $1,000 in collection accounts, we could collect an additional $630 just by making sure that the collection agency was given good information to work with!)
After discussing our Integrity Analysis Report with the agency, I shared the results with our administrative team. We were all surprised at how drastic the difference was, merely by providing good contact information.
Thanks to this review our team now makes sure that we’re sending every possible phone number and address we have available to the agency. Additionally, our staff tries to gather this information early on as part of our collections process. We’ve realized that if we can make sure we have good phone numbers and addresses as part of the payment collection process, perhaps we can continue to collect past due balances even when the patient becomes non-responsive to our efforts.
Managing your past due balances is never fun, but by putting processes in place to standardize your collections operations, you’ll help yourself move to a higher collections percentage.
To learn more about using the Collections Manager, see the “Collections Manager overview” topic in the Dentrix Help or read “Simplifying Collections with the Collections Manager.”
Read “Are Your Collections Processes Proactive?” for more ideas about improving collections.
By Jill Nesbitt, MBA, Practice Administrator and Dental Consultant
Jill Nesbitt is a dental consultant piloting a comprehensive dental staff training program in Nashville after managing a group practice with six dentists, twenty staff, and eighteen operatories for 16 years. Jill has an MBA and is passionate about helping other office managers develop their careers and helping their dentists run successful businesses through her consulting practice.
Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Fall 2013