When Patients Refuse to Pay

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As a provider, it is your responsibility to provide quality service. The last conversation a provider wants to have with a patient is a discussion over refusal to pay for what the patient perceives as inadequate treatment. In most cases in which a patient has a bad medical experience, whether it is a clinical error or a customer service mishap. Only one question comes to mind, how can we rectify the situation?

Some patients will communicate to you immediately that they refuse to pay for less than perfect treatment. The patients who don't bring up money in the conversation are usually waiting for you to offer some type of discount or reduction in their bill in order for them to continue to be loyal customers.

Develop a Policy for Refusal to Pay

The best way to handle this type of situation is to have a policy in place before it ever happens. Keeping your customers satisfied is a top priority especially in a service-driven industry such as health care. Sometimes things happen, however, that is out of anyone's control which can lead to an unsatisfied customer.

The policy should include to whom the front-line staff should direct the patient if they are the contact who is told the patient refuses to pay. Referring to the office manager may be appropriate, or you may wish to have the provider meet directly with the patient.

Include a discount or write-off procedure for the purpose of patient resolution. Unfortunately, unlike a product, if your customer is not satisfied with the services received, he cannot return it for a refund.

With a policy in place, whether the complaint is brought to the provider directly or to the medical office manager or billing staff, they will be able to respond with confidence as to what they can offer the patient.

Meeting With the Patient Who Refuses to Pay

There are several things you need to keep in mind when talking with a patient that refuses to pay.

  • Have the meeting immediately. If the contact is via telephone, invite the patient to the office or offer to get the office manager or provider on the phone as soon as possible.
  • Make sure you allow the patient to vent without interruption. Never tell them to calm down or turn it into a debate.
  • Be understanding. Show empathy immediately. Never make your patient feel as though their complaints are trivial or unwarranted. Use words that validate their emotions, such as, "That certainly sounds frustrating; I see you are angry."
  • Offer to reduce or write off the balance of their bill after insurance pays.
  • Let the patient know that efforts will be made to prevent the incident from occurring again. Take action to keep your word. Nothing would be worst than the patient experiencing a similar mishap.
  • Call the patient a few days after the incident to see if they were satisfied with how things were handled. It's important for your customer to know you care.
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