Dealing with disputed amounts

Occasionally a patient sends a check for, say, 40% of the total amount owed — but marks the check “paid in full.” You have no record of agreeing to discount the balance. Can you cash the check and send the balance to collection? Legally, you probably can, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best practice management move.

Generally, your legal right to further collection depends on whether the patient claims he or she is not obligated to pay the total. If the charges were disputed in a letter or phone call, then partial payment is likely considered a settlement offer. If you cash the check, you’ve accepted the offer, in effect canceling the balance. Ask your attorney about your state’s laws in this area.

The patient in our example, though, has not complained, meaning you can cash the check and still try to collect the balance. But don’t do so without investigating. Often, a patient who purposefully pays less is dissatisfied with the practice in some way. Marking “paid in full” on the check is a way of letting you know that. The way to get the rest of the payment and still defuse any lurking issues is to understand and address the patient’s underlying problem.

Have questions? I’m here to help.