Overdue Account

February 1, 2004

A patient had a long-standing balance. We sent him a letter stating that we are going to turn the account over to collections in 10 days. At that point, the patient called, saying he never got any of our previous collection notices. Can we still send him to collections?

Question: A patient had a long-standing balance. We sent him a letter stating that we are going to turn the account over to collections in 10 days. At that point, the patient called, saying he never got any of our previous collection notices. Can we still send him to collections?

Answer: You can send the patient to collections if you so choose, regardless of what the patient says or how many bills have been sent. Still, many practices give the patient more time because of public relations or fairness issues.

That is, if the patient truly did not receive a bill, then perhaps more time should be allowed for him to pay it. And the patient may be right, particularly if you've had problems in your billing office lately. As part of "clean-up" efforts that were made necessary by problematic billing offices, I've seen practices send loads of accounts to collections, only to wish they hadn't. One such practice landed on the front page of the local newspaper.

If you use a collection process, be sure it's a process. If it is, then go ahead and send his account out.

There is a statute of limitations on collecting past debts, but for most states, it's three or more years. Check with your state medical association.