As you explore outsourcing your dental insurance billing, you may also think bundling this service with patient billing could be a great idea. Why not let someone else take care of your entire stream of revenue? It’s stressful and time-consuming, and you, as the office manager or dentist, have other things to handle.
It’s actually a better choice to keep your patient billing in-house. After years of being an outsourced dental billing company, we still notice the value in the personal connection that happens through patient billing. Your administrative team at your dental practice should handle patient billing instead of letting an outsourced service.
In this article, you will learn what the patient billing process should ideally look like for your administrative team, and why keeping it between your team will not only give your patients a better experience but also give you the most control over your time, money, and resources.
What is patient billing at a dental practice?
On average, most dental offices’ revenue comes from two payment sources: patients and insurance. A common split for practices with insurance-heavy cash flow is usually 60% of your revenue from insurance, and 40% from patients. This means both parts of your billing process need real attention and diligence. You can’t just rely on revenue from one or the other for your financial health.
As you know, you aren’t going to get paid by insurance right after a dental procedure. It can take an average of 2-3 weeks for a claim to be paid by dental insurance. So ideally, right after a procedure, you should collect the patient’s portion, then you will receive the other portion from insurance within a few weeks. Seems simple, right?
Unfortunately, many offices struggle to calculate how much to collect from the patient up-front and what the insurance will pay. If your patient payment numbers are off, you will have to send another bill to your patient, and this is what patient billing is (spoiler alert, sending an extra bill makes for a pretty annoyed dental patient!).
The ideal state of your dental patient billing process is a zero-balance system
What’s a “zero-balance system,” you may ask? It’s a balance of zero in your patient ledger when you’ve correctly verified the patient's insurance and calculated their out-of-pocket for a visit because you already know what the insurance company will pay. You collect the amount due from the patient right after their procedure, then insurance pays their portion on the claim. You calculated correctly, and both payments leave the patient with a $0 balance for that visit. Boom! It’s that simple.
However, this is the ideal system and scenario, meaning this doesn’t happen 100% of the time. Dental billing can be messy, and a few things can keep you from achieving the zero-balance system:
Some patients are not paying the entirety of their portion on the spot
You could have miscalculated the portion your patient owes
… the list goes on
The best way to avoid these and to get to that state of zero-balance is to verify your patient’s insurance.
Once you've done insurance verification, including a full breakdown of the patient’s policy, and you put it into your dental software correctly, you can create a claim, and the dental software will tell you what to collect from the patient. This step prevents miscalculations, which will keep you from sending your patient an extra bill in the mail.
Sending the extra bills in the mail is also costing your practice. Printing, ink, envelopes, stamps, time… all of these cost your practice money. If you’re sending bills to patients on a consistent basis, you are wasting human resources, materials, and money.
Moral of the story: Perform insurance verification for every patient and input that information accurately into your practice management software. Utilize the “zero balance system” and prevent having to send patient statements in the first place.
3 reasons why your dental office -- not a service -- should be billing your patients
So now that you have the full picture of what patient billing is supposed to look like, let’s answer the big question: Why is it better to keep your patient billing in-house? There are a few reasons.
1. Your dental team already has a trusting relationship with your patients
You check your patients in, talk to them about their procedures, their insurance - heck you even ask them how their day has been and what their family is up to. If there happens to be a miscalculation on what they owe you, or maybe their insurance coverage has terminated and they’re unaware, how would they feel to get a call from a strange company they are not familiar with, asking for money or more information?
Chances are they’re going to think, “Who the heck is this asking for my money or more personal insurance information? I’m not giving that to them.” Then you don’t get paid! Plus they are annoyed that a stranger who represents YOU is contacting them.
You’ll have more success when you are the person to follow up with patients regarding payments, insurance information, or anything regarding their appointment. They remember you and trust you.
2. Your dental team knows the different financial arrangements with your patients
What if your family member came into your dental office and was expecting some kind of discount for their dental services? Is this something a billing company - who is not at the office, who does not know your family - will understand? Probably not. They’re going to see them in their system as a regular patient receiving dental work and charge them accordingly.
Let’s say you have a patient who needs to be on a payment plan. You hand them a bill one day and have a discussion on how they were going to pay it in installments. Can a billing company understand that?
Even if you made the billing company aware, is explaining every single patient’s circumstances a productive way to spend your time? You know your patients better than anyone, and they deserve a human experience when they go to the dentist.
3. Your dental team should be held responsible for collecting patient accounts receivable (A/R)
Your patient A/R is similar to your insurance aging report. Essentially, it’s a list of patients who owe you money. Like mentioned before, do you really want a total stranger calling your patients asking them for money? And I’ll pose another question. If you didn’t collect from the patient up-front, shouldn’t you be responsible for collecting from them now? The answer should be, yes!
Again, there’s a reason you probably didn’t collect from the patient when they were in front of you. We are all human. Maybe an arrangement was made, or maybe the patient conveniently didn’t have their wallet. It happens all the time! If this is the case, then you are the best person to collect on patient A/R, as you are privy to the situation
We’ve already hit on trust and that an in-house dental team should have a closer relationship with the patient, rather than a billing company. This is again why the in-house team should be responsible for collecting from patients.
Going to the dentist can be expensive, and talking about money is hard. However, it’s far more authentic to talk to your patients yourself than to send a stranger who has never met your patient to take care of it. It makes collecting that payment easier and more natural.
If you shouldn’t outsource your patient billing, why should you outsource your insurance billing?
Now that you know the 3 big reasons your dental practice should keep patient billing in-house, you might be thinking, “why should I outsource any of this?”
One big reason: you care about your patients and their well-being, even though you have to collect money from them, whereas you do not care about the well-being of an insurance company, and you definitely need to collect money from them.
What this means is you care about the experience the patient has at your dental practice. They’re a human receiving medical treatment and deserve a human experience. The insurance companies, on the other hand, don’t really deserve anything. But they have made the dental insurance process difficult and time-consuming, so YOU deserve someone else taking care of the complicated nature that is insurance billing.
Bottom line: your patients deserve amazing service from you, and you deserve to not deal with insurance when someone else will do it for you.
Give your dental patients the best experience possible
Payments from patients count for about 40% of revenue for most dental practices. It’s important that you give patients an amazing experience not only so they always pay their share, but also keep returning to your dental practice. (Bonus points if they recommend your practice to a friend!)
Creating a human, positive customer experience for your patients should be a top priority, especially when it comes to something as sensitive and important as their bill. Dental ClaimSupport sees billing miscommunications as the biggest reason why patients search for another practice, which is why we always encourage in-house patient billing.
If your practice does this and gives people that great experience, you’re sure to have happy, loyal patients.