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How to make a collection call to a patient

A collection call to a patient should never be offensive. But it does need to be firm. Remember, the goal is to collect an unpaid balance. With this in mind, here’s what to say and how to respond to what a patient says.

Begin by putting the patient on the spot, without being confrontational. One possible approach is, “We haven’t received payment for this bill we sent you 30 days ago” or, “I was reviewing our accounts receivable and saw you have $X that is three months late. I’m calling to check on the status of it.”

Then stop right there. If there’s silence, let there be silence. Put the burden of breaking the silence on the patient. There’s a good chance the patient will explain why the payment is late and will be willing to resolve the matter.

If the answer is, “I don’t have the money,” offer an alternative: “I can understand that. But let’s talk about how we can retire this bill.” Note the use of the word “we”; it implies working together.

Then suggest an amount: “Can you make monthly payments of $X until the bill is paid?” Using the word “you” puts the responsibility back on the patient, where it ultimately belongs.

If the patient agrees, emphasize the seriousness of the arrangement: “I’m going to draft an agreement.” Say that the office will send it by certified mail for the patient to sign. Then wrap up by getting a commitment: “So we can expect your first payment by Thursday?”

Here are standard patient responses, and how you should respond.

  • “I’ll take care of that.” Pin the patient down with, “When will you send the check?” Then call on that date and ask if it’s been sent.
  • “I’ve already sent a check.” Ask for the check number and the date. This forces the patient to admit any nonpayment.
  • Expressions of anger. Don’t join in. If you respond with negativity, the patient has an excuse not to pay at all. Say instead, “Please let me call you again when you can think about this rationally.” Then call a week later and pretend there never was any unpleasantness.

When should you stop calling?

And, when a patient says, “Don’t call me anymore,” can the office continue to make collection calls?

Not if the patient also says, “I’m not going to pay this bill.”

The purpose of a collection call is to collect a debt, and when the debtor says, “I’m not paying,” that purpose vanishes. The collection has now become a legal matter, and the calls begin to look like harassment.

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