Address new patients’ payment and insurance plans up front.
All parents know (and dread) when it’s time to have “the talk” with their kids. Some do a better job than others—and the same is true for those tasked with having “the talk” with new patients. In fact, for many, discussing the birds and the bees can seem like a walk in the park compared to bringing up the subject of—gulp—money on the first visit.
Conversations about payment can scare people and make them uncomfortable. When your staff is wavering and twitchy on the subject, your patients will notice. So the first order of business is to ascertain total clarity on your practice’s financial policies, fee schedule, and third-party carrier coverage. When you know what you’re talking about, you’re able to speak with more confidence and compassion.
Out in the open
Patients don’t want to talk about money either. Mostly, that’s because they don’t know how much they’re going to owe, and they’re worried about getting conned somehow. The imagination often comes up with a worst-case scenario. So your first order of business should be to minimize the unknown, because worried patients not only will tend to be noncompliant with therapy but also be prone to suddenly dropping off the radar when it comes to payment—and sometimes leaving your practice altogether.
Begin the payment conversation during that first phone call to the office. Why? Because new patients should know what to expect when they come in for their first visit with you. It’s also a good idea to avoid a difficult conversation about finances with a patient who might, loudly and in a crowded reception room, try to embarrass you out of collecting from him or her that day.
You want patients to know that you’re comfortable talking about your fees and your financial policy. You want them to understand you have an expectation that they will pay something on their first visit. It is a courtesy to give them an idea of what to bring, or what forms of payment you accept, so they are able to have an easy transaction at the front desk at the end of their initial appointment.
Most patients will appreciate your candor because the dollar signs running rampant in their head are much scarier than the actual amount they will owe. By bringing up the fees and what you expect them to pay, you’ve opened the door for patients to express financial concerns right there on the phone, and get any sticking points resolved up front.
Pencil them in
In addition, let patients know you have a pre-acceptance interview process between patient and doctor (you do, don’t you?), with no financial obligation. This conversation about chiropractic and their condition allows them to get to know you and determine appropriate next steps. You can address financial hardship, other money concerns, and if you don’t turn patients away based on their ability to pay for care, then say so.
Your goal is to get the patient on your schedule. Studies show that those who actually come to your office are far more likely to return rather than seek care elsewhere, so getting them on the calendar is an important part of your practice success.
When scheduling on that initial phone call, your conversation might start with something like this:
“Now, I’m going to ask you some questions that will save you time when you are in the office. Do you have some kind of insurance that you’d like our assistance with filing for you?”
If the answer is yes, ask the patient to get his or her insurance card, accident information, or whatever applies, and review it over the phone. Once you’ve gathered all the data, offer the choice of two appointment times and get the patient on the schedule. Verify that he or she knows how to find you, or that you will send directions to your building, and offer any new-patient paperwork to complete and bring to the first appointment.
If third-party coverage isn’t available, an affordable alternative for cash-paying patients is for your practice to join a Discount Medical Plan Organization (DMPO). Patients are excited to hear: “Not to worry, Dr. Smith is a member of a Discount Medical Plan that allows us to extend discounts to those like you without third-party coverage.”
Keep the conclusion short, sweet, and crystal clear: “We’re excited to see you on Wednesday at 10 a.m., Mrs. Jones. We ask you to come prepared to pay (for example) $99 towards your deductible and copay.”
Patients, as a rule, want to pay for the care they receive. They also want to have their insurance company assist them to the fullest extent possible. They may think their insurance card is just like an ATM card. This is where you lay the groundwork to dispel that myth.
If you have a patient who’s trying to game the system from the start and avoid paying, best to know it now. When the team is clear on the office’s financial policies, it’s easy to weed out the few problems that might arise, and in the process, make the other 99 percent of your new patients feel confident and comfortable about how they will be treated in your practice.
Forewarned is forearmed. Following these guidelines, your talks with new patients about finances should run smoothly and, despite any issues that arise, at least you can safely assume they’ll know all about the birds and the bees.
Kathy Mills Chang is a Certified Medical Compliance Specialist (MCS-P) and, since 1983, has been providing chiropractors with reimbursement and compliance training, advice, and tools to improve the financial performance of their practices. She leads a team of 14 at KMC University, and is known as one of the profession’s foremost experts on Medicare. She or any of her team members can be reached at 855-832-6562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.