You've seen the sign: "Payment due at the time services are rendered." You may even have one posted on your front desk. But how often do clients act surprised at the bill? Do they hem and haw when you ask them to pay?
Lorraine Monheiser List, CPA
"Hey, not my problem," you may be thinking. "Practice finances are strictly the owner's or manager's responsibility—I don't control that."
If you've ever had this reaction, it's time to think again. Your paycheck depends on the practice's bank balance. And you exert enormous influence over clients' attitudes about payment, because you often present the bill.
It doesn't matter how many appointments your front desk schedules or how many patients your doctors see if your hospital doesn't get paid for the work. You can't collect a paycheck and your practice can't purchase supplies using a client's promise to pay. It takes real money. So it's your responsibility to offer high-quality care, teach clients the value of your services, explain your practice's payment policies, and help make sure clients pay up. Here's how.
1. Examine your feelings about fees.
What's your attitude about what your practice charges? Do you cringe when you feel a fee conversation coming on? Even if you don't say a word, your body language might send the message that you're uncomfortable with the fees. Your practice owners may not share information about the practice's finances, but I can assure you you're probably not overcharging. Figure 1 shows an estimate of the costs your practice has to cover with every dollar clients pay.
Essentially, your practice spends about 92 cents of every dollar on these items alone—and this isn't even a complete list of a hospital's normal costs. These figures also don't account for purchases such as X-ray processors, lab equipment, wet tables, or ultrasound. What could you reasonably remove from this list of expenses? When you look at these costs, your fees probably make more sense.
The lesson here: Present the bill with confidence, so clients receive a clear message that the fees your practice charges are reasonable.
2. Know your payment policy.
Do you have a written policy, and do your clients know what it is? Simply printing it on the invoice isn't enough. Make sure all clients understand your payment policy before you perform any services. In fact, it's a good idea to explain the practice's policy when clients schedule an appointment to avoid misunderstandings later.
3. Represent your policy fairly.
The payment policy isn't designed to discourage clients from making an appointment or from bringing in their pet. In fact, the opposite is true. Your practice is working to offer clients the maximum number of ways that they can pay: cash, check, money order, credit cards, third-party payment plans, and, if all else fails, postdated checks. Again, the goal isn't to discourage clients; it's to find a way for them to pay. Does your hospital's policy suggest alternatives, and do you work with clients to find a way to make it work?