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How to write a strong collection letter

Increasing patient payments improves the practice’s bottom line. But how exactly do you motivate patients to pay?

To write an effective collection letter, follow these guidelines.

•   Make it short. Limit the letter to one page. Limit the paragraphs to two sentences. Limit the sentences to 22 words. And limit the words to three syllables. Do this and the message will be concise, direct, and powerful.

•   Don’t start a sentence with first person. Instead of “our records indicate” or “I am writing to tell you” or “it has come to my attention,” use second person, as in “your account is past due.” Or, instead of “we need you to pay now,” make it “you need to pay your bill now.” Follow with a second-person reason to pay: “so we can continue to keep you as our patient.”

•   Don’t give a payment time with an -ly word such as immediately or promptly. To the patient, immediately may mean next month. Be specific: “Your bill needs to be paid no later than June 1.” This says, “We’re going to sit here and wait for your payment.”

•   In some offices, the treating physician signs the letters, and the response is good. When the patient realizes the doctor knows about the nonpayment, the embarrassment factor figures in.

These are guidelines for a first collection effort. What happens if you still don’t get results after you send that first letter?

One office gets good results with a last-chance letter before sending an account to collections. The letter offers options for the patient.

Here is sample copy you can modify for your purposes.

Before your account is submitted to a collection agency, and to give you the opportunity to protect your valuable credit rating, please indicate your preference of the following:

•   I prefer to settle this amount in full at this time. My check is enclosed.

•   I will make 12 monthly payments, each for one twelfth of the balance. My check for the first installment of $X is enclosed.

•   I will use a credit card to pay the entire amount due. (A credit card form is enclosed.)

•   I will pay directly from my bank account. (Online payment details are enclosed).

•   You may assign this account to a collection agency.

If we do not hear from you within 10 days, we will assume the last choice is your preference and will send your account to collections.

Remember, words are powerful. And when you put them in writing, they are hard to ignore. This is why collection letters get payment results. In addition, these letters serve as documentation should a dispute regarding payment ever arise.

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