How should doctors chase unpaid bills?

Clients who don’t pay their bills are a problem for any small business, and independent healthcare practitioners are no exception. Many practitioners find it uncomfortable enough billing, without having to chase the bill as well—after all, you are a professional, you didn’t come into this business to send and pursue bills.

Many independent practitioners take the approach that it’s not worth chasing bad debt. You simply make a mental note not to see that patient again.But the alternative approach says that you should be paid for all work that you have done. Anything else is just not fair.

Before you ask, you don’t need to get heavy-handed and threaten your patients with debt collectors. Instead, there are some relatively simple procedures that you can use to help improve your payment rate.

It’s not all doom and gloom

First, make sure that you always have full details for your patients before you see them.

That should include an email address and mobile phone number, because this makes billing and chasing bills much easier. You should also make sure that you have details of the next of kin, which is good practice anyway in case of problems, but also means that you have a contact should your patient die before the bill can be paid.

Second, it can be helpful to explain to your patients that you will be sending a bill, and by what means.

You might also want to explain what other bills they may receive, perhaps from the clinic or hospital, or another healthcare practitioner. This will lessen any chance that the patient assumes that they have already paid your bill as part of another.

Decide when you want your bill to have been paid, and put this information on it. Once that date is reached, you can then email them and gently remind them. Useful phrases include:

I noticed that I hadn’t heard from you by the due date, and wanted to check that you had received the invoice safely.

I do understand that you have a lot on/have been recovering but it would help if you would let me know when you will be able to pay the bill.

The key is to take the approach that they are not trying to avoid paying.

They have simply forgotten, or didn’t notice the due date, or got confused. You are therefore reminding them of the bill’s existence. If an email doesn’t work, your next step is to telephone their mobile number, and either speak to them, or leave a message. And keep trying, every few days, until you get a response.

An alternative is to use a service provider.

For example, some booking websites ask self-paying patients to pay upfront, which means that you get a much smaller non-attendance ratio, and also don’t have to spend your time chasing up unpaid bills. This system is designed to make your life easier and simpler, and cut out one of the big hassles of private practice. Why not try it?

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