Why patients don’t pay on time

Why patients don’t pay on time

It’s not always the money
Both research and anecdotal evidence increasingly suggest that most patients are willing and able to pay their medical bills. After all, they’re settling their bills with Mr Price, Woolworths and Vodacom – so why not with their doctor, dentist or physiotherapist? The problem is that they’re up against a system that doesn’t always make it convenient to do so.

Willing, but not always able
A 2008 McKinsey survey in the US on non-payment of medical bills of less than 0 showed that lack of financing options was the main reason cited (33% of respondents), followed by late arrival of the bill (29%) and forgetting to pay/confusion about what was owed (18%). Only a small minority was genuinely unwilling or unable to pay.

A lesson from the retail sector
Comparisons with the retail sector aren’t always fair, but SA retailers do have billing down to a fine art. You can pay using cash, credit card or the internet. You can pay now, you can leave a deposit or you can pay in instalments. You can even open an account and pay by debit order. There is none of this versatility in the medical profession, despite the fact that patients are living longer, and have to fund a growing proportion of their medication and consultations themselves.

Get your patients to pay on time
The following simple measures should prompt many of your patients to start paying on time:

  • make bills easier to understand, so that there’s less tendency to put them aside for later
  • avoid sending invoices long after the consultation, because by then there is little sense of urgency
  • provide as many payment options as possible, so that the most likely patient response is to pay rather than delay

*Source: mypractice data (July 2011 – Jul 2012)

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