penny wise and dollar foolish…
If anyone ever tells you there’s nothing to be gained by heeding the advice of those who have come before us, please remember this heartfelt suggestion:
Turn around and walk away.
At some point during my time working with Dr. Sanet, he had shared that we should always be careful who we speak to and how we treat them, because as he said “you never know who will turn into a great referral source”. It was always a piece of advice that was in my back pocket, but never one that never really needed to be held front and center. That is, until now.
For most of 2013 and 2014 our office used a third-party billing service to help tend to our patients needs with respect to their insurance coverage. The reasoning behind hiring this external service was to remove the need to have an in-house face-to-face person handle insurance coverage. This turned out to be a colossal error in judgment. After two years of relying on this third-party to verify our patients insurance coverage and bill our patient visits, we reconciled most of our accounts and realized that there were some significant errors. To be specific, the coverage that the third party was identifying were vastly incorrect, and by and large, most of our patients were told that their coverage benefits were far better than they ended up being in reality, and as a result, patients were charged less. Once the error was recognized, we had to backtrack with our collections. At that time, we were faced with the decision to either approach our patients with thoughts of recouping the money lost because of what was kicked back as “patient responsibility”, or simply to write it off and take the loss. We decided to allow our third-party biller to gently approach our patients on the issue without seeming as though we were holding patients hostage for information they didn’t have when their program started.
Think about it, if you go to an office for 6 months of services, and after your program is completed someone says: “Oops, we didn’t charge you enough”, what’s your response?
Yeah, mine too. Try collecting.
Admittedly, it seems asinine to me today, but at the time, it seemed reasonable. I still cannot figure out why.
Patients were quite upset. Our relationship with the third-party biller ended. Damage control with angry patients was in full effect. Some patients even left our clinic. It was a monumental disaster.
Fast forward two years. In reviewing our financial statements for 2015, the suggestion was made that we consider re-connecting with these patients to re-open the collection talks – just to see if anything was possible. Someone even suggested a collection agency, which I knew would not amount to much collection, and instead rip the band-aid off old wounds. Not only were the people on this list of outstanding balances some of our best success stories, they also were about to become 10 to 12 families whose lasting memory of us would be what they perceived to be shady billing practices. The fact that it was the error of a company we contracted with became insignificant. Talk about throwing gasoline on a fire!
Although, taking a stand with my doctor is not a frequent occurrence, this was an exception. We already made two mistakes and were about to make another which potentially carried consequences of exponential proportion. It was time to stop the bleeding and let the wounds heal. Instead, my suggestion was a little different:
We should draft a letter explaining the unfortunate situation, forgive the balances, offer an apology for the mess, and invite these patients back for a fresh start. Let’s put the relationship with these families first, accept the rest of the mess as a learning experience, and move on. It took a few strong conversations, but in the end, my plan was victorious. Letters were drafted, signed, and mailed. That was a few Fridays ago.
Remember the wisdom Dr. Sanet shared with me? Well, pay attention because here it comes…
Last week, we received phone calls from half those families and they were interested in making appointments to have their kids’ re-evaluated. Rather that burn them further, we now are filling our schedule with their appointments! One mom in particular, shared her strong sense that she was unwelcome in our office and was relieved to understand that we have put it behind us. She went on to say that she is the new clinical director of the soon-to-be- opening OT clinic which is both right down the street from our practice and a branch-off of the biggest OT clinic in Austin.
“I wasn’t going to have my people refer to you. You do great work, but that billing mess left a really bad taste in my mouth and I wasn’t sure how, in good conscience, how my referrals would be treated. I’ve been wrestling with this dilemna for months. I’m happy you cleared it up.”
Did you catch that? We almost lost several thousands of dollars in the future income over the next several years, and all over this families’ $400 mess that became more a matter of principle than it did the hit on their wallet. Instead, the relationship is saved, apologies accepted, and all is forgiven. My doctor, this mom, and I are having lunch next week to discuss the future of our respective clinics.
Someone remind me to give Dr. Sanet an extra hug next time I see him…