Optometric Management Tip # 240   -   Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Could payments fall through the cracks?

I discovered a weakness in my office systems many years ago, and I thought I would pass it along in case it may help you. Review the following scenario and consider if this has happened – or could happen – in your practice.

A possible scenario

A long-time, loyal patient calls your office about six months after her last exam to order another supply of disposable contact lenses (this patient does not generally opt for full-year supplies). Your receptionist checks the record and the Rx is valid and all is well, so she places the order. The patient says she would like to pick up the lenses at your office rather than have them shipped to her. The lenses arrive at your office a few days later and are verified and the patient is called by your staff to let her know the lenses can be picked up. The patient drops in and gives her name at the front desk and says she has contact lenses to pick up. The receptionist finds four six-packs of lenses with the patient’s name attached. The staff person is well-trained and pulls up the patient’s financial record on the office computer to see if there is a balance, but it shows zero is due and the boxes are dispensed. The patient says thank you and leaves.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Of course there is no balance due – no charges were ever entered! Unless you have a system that addresses when charges are entered and unless you’ve specifically train staff to check for charges in the financial history, you probably have some payments falling through the cracks.

Entering charges

If the patient is physically in your office when products are ordered, it’s fairly easy to ensure that charges are entered. An event is occurring that needs to be recorded and the staff becomes accustomed to a required routine. A document, either on paper or electronic, is completed with the product description and fees shown. This document leads to the entering of the fees in the office computer system. This simply must happen because the patient needs to have a receipt or a record of the transaction and because office policy requires at least a 50% deposit for the order to occur. There is a required “check-out” procedure. I believe in making these payment policies a requirement in all cases.

Offices that do not require a receipt to be generated while the patient is still at the front desk risk the potential for charges to be forgotten. Delaying the paperwork can easily happen if staff members are very busy and if the practice management system is cumbersome. I would work to overcome the obstacles, however, because if charges are not entered promptly, some will be lost.

Phone orders

Our scenario above involves one of the few times that product orders occur without generally requiring a 50% deposit (because the lenses can be returned if they are not picked up and requiring payment over the phone may be viewed by some as a bit overly aggressive). Nothing wrong with requiring a credit card payment at the time of the order, however, and that event would lead to the entering of the charges, so it has merit. But many offices don’t require it for packaged contact lens orders.

My recommendation to ensure charges for phone orders are entered is to use a contact lens order form (paper or electronic) and completing that form should trigger the entering of the charges. I also limit the number of staff who order contact lenses and train them to double check the financial history for the appropriate charges at the time the order is placed.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management