How to Never Chase After a Payment Again
Way back in the early years of private practice, when tools like Simple Practice and credit card processing were just entering the mainstream market, I had an all-paper practice and a billing system that Fred Flintstone would have balked at.
I didn’t collect payments at the time of service. Instead, I billed clients monthly. I created the invoices and receipts from scratch using Excel spreadsheets and Word documents. When I got on my first insurance panel, I completed the claim forms by hand, sent them via snail mail, and then waited for my check to come in the mail. Needless to say, I spent many hours each month billing clients and chasing after payments. As a private practitioner just starting out, I didn’t have the funds to hire a billing agency so I had to learn how to do it myself.
I’ve learned a lot since then! As a solo practitioner, it’s important that I run my practice as efficiently and economically as possible. Today, I spend less than five minutes per month on billing and never chase after a payment.
Here’s how it’s done:
1. Get an Electronic Billing System
Whether you see 5 or 35 clients per week, an electronic billing system like Simple Practice or Theranest is worth it, especially if you’re billing insurance companies. With a billing system, you can automate all your billing. You never have to create an invoice, process a payment, fill out a claim form, or send anything through snail mail again.
2. Collect Credit Card Information
Choose an electronic billing system that collects credit card information from your clients (most of them do). This way, you can charge the credit card for services, as well as cancellation fees or other fees your client might incur.
The online credit card authorization form is sent to the client through your billing system with the intake paperwork so you’ll never have to enter the credit card information yourself (the client does it). Make sure your authorization form spells out that you can charge a fee without notice. This covers you if a client disappears.
If you’re worried about the cost of credit card processing fees, keep in mind that you’d lose much more in lost payments by not having a credit card on file.
When you set the client up in the system, take note of the credit card’s expiration date. You can make a note in your calendar or write an administrative note in the client’s file so you can request the new credit card information before it expires.
3. Automate Invoicing
Set your billing system to invoice all sessions automatically. As long as you keep your calendar up-to-date, there’s no reason why you should invoice every session manually.
4. Set Up Automatic Claim Submission
Set up your billing system to automatically batch and submit all insurance claims. I recommend doing this every week, but monthly is probably fine if you’re not experiencing any issues with the insurance companies you work with.
5. Require Auto-pay or Pay Ahead
Set up all clients on auto-pay and process all payments on the day the service was provided. You'll save considerable time by not manually charging the credit card after each session.
I don’t offer the pay-ahead option unless the client doesn’t feel comfortable storing their credit card in the billing system (this has only happened a couple of times). In which case, I require they pay a full month in advance. They get refunded for any unused sessions.
After you’ve set all your clients up on auto-pay, you’ll never have to keep track of payments again.
6. Create a Consequence
Because I follow all the steps above, the only time a client might get behind on a payment is when their credit card declines from a lack of funds. Thankfully, this only happens occasionally. To ensure that the debt doesn’t increase, my consent forms clearly state that the client is removed from the schedule until the debt is paid.
As soon as I notice the declined payment, I send a new credit card authorization form to the client through the patient portal. Then I immediately call the client to let them know that a payment was declined and to provide a new form of payment before our next scheduled session. Setting up a clear consequence lets the client know that they can’t receive the service if they have a debt with you.
If you complete the five steps above, you’ll never deal with billing headaches again. Imagine how much time and energy you’re going to get back!
What I really like about this system is that it cuts down on money conversations you might have with your client. You won’t have to awkwardly take payments during sessions or have conversations about keeping up with payments. You won’t have to send multiple annoying invoices in the mail or make uncomfortable phone calls. You’ll never have to wrestle with the decision of whether to hire a collection service or just eat the loss. It’s a win-win!
One more thing… be sure to review these policies with your client at the start of your counseling relationship. This will cut down on questions later.
If you have any questions about this or any other practice-building topic, use the comment form HERE, and your question could be featured in a future blog post.
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