Patient collections can be a challenge any time of the year, but are particularly stressful during the Holiday season. Some collection agencies make the mistake of pausing collection efforts during this time of the year to avoid increasing tension between the healthcare provider and the patient. However, this approach can be extremely counter intuitive - outstanding receivables affect the bottom lines of both the healthcare providers and the agency. The keys to successful collections during this time of year call for increased flexibility, diplomacy and a few of the following tips.
Timing is Everything
Collection agencies are well aware of the limitations governing their businesses via the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. While the FDCPA does not specifically address making calls during the Christmas season, choosing the right day and time in which to make calls can make all the difference between a successful call and failure. Nobody wants to make or receive a collection call at 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Several states even include provisions against making such calls during ‘known’ or ‘legal’ holidays such as Christmas. It is vital that agencies set special hours for calling during the holidays.
Making collection calls or communicating in other ways during the holidays doesn’t have to conjure up visions of Scrooge in a patient’s imagination. Remaining in the spirit of the season while working with a patient is not only possible, it’s often worth the effort. For example, a little extra diplomacy can easily turn a friendly holiday customer service call into a conversation about keeping the patient’s payment arrangement on schedule or working out a new one. Instilling some holiday spirit and understanding into each communication can go a long way toward successful cooperation in resolving payment issues.
Being truly engaged with a patient during a call doesn’t always involve talking. By actively listening to a debtor, the collector can reduce any isolation the patient may feel, especially during the holidays. Use the call as an opportunity to show empathy. This can let the patient know that the collector, as well as the healthcare provider, understands how he or she feels. When a patient senses that the collector is listening, it’s easier to understand that the collector has actually helped others in the same situation.
When making collection calls during the Christmas season, make sure the patient understands that the call is about working to resolve his or her debt, not just about collecting a payment. A patient who’s interested in working out a new payment arrangement is interested in keeping the cash flowing. A collection agent that is flexible enough to recognize and take advantage of this opportunity establishes a clear understanding of the patient’s situation. It also demonstrates the value the collector puts on the relationship. There’s no need to stray far from normal collection procedures; just follow them to a somewhat greater degree during the holidays. Being flexible and understanding can go a long way toward resolving the debt.
The closer it gets to Christmas, the more holiday spirit should be injected into every conversation or communication. Nurturing a good relationship with patients that owe their healthcare providers money is an ongoing, year-round process.
Setting the right tone for all holiday communications can help keep the mood upbeat and productive. Being able to empathize with the patients while still being professional will make all the difference in keeping those payments flowing.