How to Craft a Better Medical Collection Letter

April 29, 2015 by Antonio Arias, MBA, CHBME

Topics: Medical Billing, Revenue Cycle Management, Practice Management

One of the most frustrating aspects of medical billing and practice management is patient collections. It’s a touchy situation – one in which you need to be firm in your approach but sensitive to the many concerns at play (patient financial hardship and medical-issue severity among them).

If you want to stay in good standing with your patients or avoid negative on-line reviews, it’s critical to avoid offending your patients as you move through the collection process. But that shouldn’t keep you from doing everything in your power to collect unpaid balances.

Many practices go years (if not decades) without reviewing the language and other content included in their collection letters. Don’t be one of them! Take a look at yours and keep the following best practices in mind.

Clarity is Key

According to a McKinsey survey of retail healthcare consumers, 98 percent of patients want to pay their medical bills, but they’re confused about what they owe, need reminders from their physician, or lack the financial resources to do so.

The first of those is especially crucial. A patient who doesn’t understand the charges she’s late on is unlikely to pay them. Can you blame her?

Your letters need to make it easy for a patient to recognize not just how much they owe, but why they owe the balance. Detail what services the bill covers, the specific dates of service, and what their payment options are. List a phone number and email address for questions; offering to help the patient understand the bill is highly effective!

Language Matters

Your goal in a collection letter is to convey urgency without intimidation. Aggressive wording about “final warnings” or “legal action” can have two unintended consequences: scaring a patient into inaction, or compelling them to challenge you to follow through on the threat. Both relegate your letter to the upaid pile by the delinquent patient.

Stress the gravity of the situation without resorting to off-putting language. Consider including a line in the first few paragraphs that acknowledges that the patient may be experiencing financial hardship, but note that you rely on payment in order to continue providing quality medical care to your community.

Though few patients will actually take you up on it, offer to help them set up a payment plan. Sometimes, the generosity of that gesture is enough to make patients understand that you have their best interests at heart.

One is Not Enough

If you send the same  letter to a patient on multiple occasions, how do you expect to grab his or her attention? On the second or third receipt, your patient will just glance at it and set it aside.

The language, tone, and look of your letter needs to change from the one you send at 30 days to 60 days to 90 days. Consider incorporating different text, changing the format, and adding bold lettering to the later-sent letters.

After that, the choice is yours. Working with a medical collections agency has its pros and cons but it may be a wise choice depending on the size of the balance owed. If collections are a recurring problem for your practice, consider how working with a medical billing company could help you get paid the balances you’re due.

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