Without being rude, a patient needs to be reminded that he or she will most likely owe your practice money. This needs to be clearly stated at the beginning of your relationship. With existing patients, at the beginning point of his or her next treatment.
Not only is this reminder the most important part of your financial policy; it is the most difficult to communicate in a non-confrontational way. I say that because no matter how we remind the patient, they tend to ignore the reminder. So, we find ourselves having to put it in bold type or strong language.
Having consulted with countless admins and docs about their policy and how to get paid by patients; I’ve read more than my share of financial policy documents. One glaring error I find repeated is that many of them are almost impossible to understand due to legal-eze. Most patients will glaze over in two paragraphs and refuse to read on.
I counsel practices to write their own policy in very plain language. If necessary, they can have an attorney review it, but they need to fight to keep it simple. Adding legal language that only attorneys understand is a quick way to lose patient trust.
Below is the second paragraph from one of our sample financial policy documents. You can obtain a copy of this sample document here, or by clicking the link at the end of this post.
As with any partnership, both parties have a role to play. Our role is to provide you with quality service. In turn, your role is to pay for your treatment in a timely manner. Our team will work with you to determine financial arrangements that make sense for both of us. With an agreement made, our joint follow-through will result in a win for everyone.
In the actual policy document, the paragraph above is neither highlighted with bold type nor italicized, but you may want to consider both. The key thing to communicate to the patient is that they will most likely owe the practice something - even if it’s only a small co-pay for Medicare.
Our paragraph is patient friendly to the extreme. No strong language, no bold type is used. It is written at about a seventh grade reading level (a bit higher than the recommended 5th grade reading level). To make it easier you could change words like ‘determine financial arrangements’ to ‘decide how you will pay’ to make it appropriate for your patient base.
In our sample document, we put this reminder in the second paragraph, just below a short introduction, to make sure the patient sees it. They may not read past the second paragraph but we got our message across right away. You may want to add stronger statements about patient payment responsibility. My advice is to keep it simple, plain, and friendly at first. If patients aren’t paying attention then strengthen it.
Again, the key is to remind them that some amount of money is going to have to come out of their pocket and be paid to you. Make this clear and you will have communicated the single most important part of your financial policy!