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How to engage patients to pay their medical debt

More and more patients are calling medical practices to find out what a procedure costs. Doctors find themselves being asked about what a test costs first, instead of the patient automatically doing what the physician says. And, of course, more of the financial aspects of healthcare are falling on the patient, meaning they may have to pay a medical expense that will produce a sudden and all too real hardship.

Following are some dos and don’ts on connecting with patients on their financial responsibilities for quality healthcare.


Do include collections at time of service in your standard routine

Make the collections aspect of your practice a non-negotiable by ensuring your registration and checkout staff is educated and can articulate accepted in network plans, insurance jargon presented in lay terms, why a patient owes a balance, etc.

Do screen patients for insurance

Screening should be checked before the appointment and at check in. The patient’s plan type may also call for a referral, pre-certification or other documentation prior to the procedure. Notify patients in advance on non-covered and expected out of pocket medical expenses.

Do educate staff on how to discuss financial obligations with patients

Often, especially if they are receiving good care, the patients want to pay. Show them the way. Listen and address their concerns. It is good to educate your staff on how to discuss financial obligations with patients in the best way so that they are more apt to pay their medical bills, even if it is just a small amount at a time.

Do build a connection and empathize with the patient

Many times, the medical condition that needs treatment hasn’t been planned for. The cost might be a stunner that creates havoc in the patient’s household. It is good to build a real connection with the patient so that they trust and realize that your recommendations are in their best interests vs. planning treatment that isn’t required.

Do understand the value of your fee

Patients will continue to have a multitude of health care choices and may comparison shop for the best price. While pricing is no indicator of quality care, assess how your fee schedule competes with other providers in your area that offer the same services. What do you deliver that may demand a higher fee?


Do not negate asking for payment or becoming inflexible

Collecting revenue for services rendered should be everyone’s concern. The best results are when the staff and patient are collaborating together to secure payment for services you rendered. Don’t neglect asking for the payment or be inflexible when the patient asks for payment plans or other options to pay for treatment.

Do not become judgemental

Focus on a game plan that will allow for the patient’s current and future financial state to bring you the desired outcome: paying the practice what is owed. You may want to consider alternative options that you may not have contemplated. But whatever you do, don’t judge them for not being able to pay - they may just need other options.

Do not assume the amount owed will be easy to pay off

Even a small amount of medical bills might be a big burden for a patient. Any amount that the patient can pay off is a good start. Payment plans and other alternative payment options can be arranged as well.

Do not have an abrupt manner or attitude

The fastest way to get a patient not to pay is to be dismissive, tart or indifferent about his/her non-ability to pay right away. Stay polite, calm and focused on a positive outcome. Having bad etiquette is never good for any business, no matter what it is.

Do not give up

As suggested before, most patients want to pay and don’t want to have a delinquent medical bill hurt their credit. Show them how. Give them options, and do what you can to give them the opportunity to pay.

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With the healthcare landscape rapidly changing, medical practices shoulder the responsibility of becoming a quasi-financial counselor to their patients. In fact, collecting patient balances is one of the top ten concerns that surfaced from the results of a recent survey conducted by the Medical Group Management Association. Continue to arm your practice with proactive, effective collection strategies to retain engaged staff, satisfied patients, and consistent revenue.

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Sue (Sunni) PattersonPresident/CEO

Sue (Sunni) Patterson started in the healthcare industry as a senior medical claims processor with a major insurance payer. Sunni is President of RMK Holdings Inc., a healthcare revenue cycle management services firm. Key specialization areas in...

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