Many practices have policies that explain the different methods patients can use to pay for treatment.
It’s a good idea to provide patients with a written, formal financial policy that details the specific provisions of any financing options available in your practice.
Options may include flexible payment alternatives from external groups, third party lenders, prepayment and courtesy payment arrangements, as well as other internal financial arrangements. Having the information in a written format ensures consistency and clarity when communicating the options available to each patient. Always be sure to review the appropriate state and federal regulations to confirm that your practice is in compliance.
Use the answers to these questions as the basis for developing, or updating, your practice’s financial policy:
- When does your practice require payment in full? Do you require:
- Payment in full of the patient’s estimated portion of the fees due no later than the time that services are rendered?
- Payment in full by the end of treatment for comprehensive treatment requiring multiple visits with a minimum deposit based on the patient’s estimated portion of the fees due at the start of treatment?
- Payment on some other schedule? If so, that schedule and the circumstances around it should be clearly outlined.
It’s possible that patients may, at their own discretion, elect to provide payment in full in advance of comprehensive treatment plans. Any unused credit balance would need to be issued according to a refund policy and should adhere to prevailing regulations and restrictions.
Other issues to consider when developing your practice’s financial policy statement include:
- How do you resolve situations when the patient has paid at least a portion of the cost of services but does not complete treatment?
- Do you provide a full refund, a partial refund or no refund?
- What payment methods are accepted in your practice?
- Do you offer a third party financing program?
- Do you offer an in house payment plan?
- Do you offer additional payment options? For example, can patients pay for treatment in two or three payments? Can they pay concurrently with treatment appointments?
- Do you offer a courtesy adjustment or cash discount for prepayment when acceptable and appropriate?
- If so, is that courtesy adjustment available for other payment methods, i.e. credit cards?
- What is the amount of the courtesy adjustment?
- Is a minimum dollar amount required for financing treatment? If so, what’s the minimum amount required?
- $350, $500, $1000, $1500? Some other amount?
- How do you handle dental benefit claims?
- Do you accept assignment and bill the carrier directly?
- Do you not accept assignment but assist patients by providing the documentation they need to submit claims to their dental benefits administrator or carrier?
- Do you charge for failed or cancelled appointments?
- If so, what is the fee for failed or cancelled appointments?
- How much notice is required for cancellations?
- Is the fee assessed in all cases or only after several instances?
- Do you charge for returned checks? If so, how much? Be sure to review your state’s regulations on fees for returned checks before defining your policy to ensure you’re in compliance with any applicable laws.
Once you’ve answered these questions and have checked the appropriate regulations, you’re almost ready to develop a financial policy for your practice and your patients. Your next step should be to review your state’s dental practice act and any applicable state laws. With that information, you’re ready to outline a financial policy that can be used as a guide for your practice. Once you have the policy drafted, consider having it reviewed by a knowledgeable attorney in your jurisdiction to make sure it complies with the appropriate federal and state laws and regulations. It’s also a good idea to review your policy every few years to be sure it’s still appropriate and addresses currently available methods of payment.
Once the policy has been developed, it's important to inform, educate and train the team on presenting and adhering to the financial policy. The financial information should be presented to the patient prior to the start of extensive and expensive treatment. It is also advisable to have the patient sign the financial policy form and to keep that document on file.
More information about refunds is available in the “Managing Patients” module of the ADA’s Guidelines for Practice SuccessTM; please see the Refunds and Discounts article in the Patient Relations section of that module.