Some patients may choose to finance the balance themselves using avenues such as savings, loans from other family members, or equity they have in their home. For others, it may be as easy as presenting a consumer credit card.
Explore This IssueOctober 2015
If these options are not available for a patient, the physician may consider offering credit through the practice itself. “Most otolaryngology practices are smaller and may not have either the financial or administrative structure to extend much credit in-house,” said Gundling. “The first question is, what can the practice afford to do to help out patients?”
The answer to that will depend on the size and outlook of the practice as well as how much money is involved. Even the tiniest one- or two-person operation might be able to set up a payment plan for a $500 bill.
The decision depends in part on whether the practice has any desire to extend credit. Independent of the money involved in the loan, offices of any size may decide that they don’t want to invest the administrative time and resources needed to service these kinds of accounts.
Practices that decide to set up payment plans should only support loans that can be settled in three or fewer payments, said Dahl. “When you go to the fourth payment and beyond, you are subject to federal and state lending and credit acts. The administrative overhead and possible sanctions if things aren’t done properly may add too many unknowns to the mix,” he added.
A practice may also choose to turn the account over to an outside entity. The practice immediately gets paid a certain amount, and patients make arrangements to pay back the third party. Some companies specialize in lending money for healthcare through “medical credit cards.” Both Dahl and Gundling note that the practice’s bank often will offer these kinds of services.
Using an outside agency to extend credit to your patients not only frees up money and staff time but also can avoid negative feelings. It is a more business-like relationship, separated from the physician-patient relationship, if the patient has problems making payments.
Practices should also becomefamiliar with charitable foundations, or establish their own if the group is big enough. These organizations may be able to help defray costs associated with treatments for those who meet the foundations’ grant criteria.
No Single Plan for All
Both Dahl and Gundling also agree that no single plan is likely to be useful for all patients in a given practice. Offices should be prepared to offer many payment methods to more closely match the needs of the patient with available programs.