One of the sad realities of working in a hospital is that death happens there nearly every day. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also a reality of the industry. And unfortunately, hospitals sometimes have to collect on accounts for deceased patients. Collecting an account after death requires tact and care, and a strong understanding of the situation at hand.

Working Through a Lawyer

Because many leftover debts are deducted from the estate of the decedent, lawyers may be involved. If a hospital has any hope of collecting on the medical debt of someone who is deceased, it’s best to work directly with the lawyer. As debts are tallied up, it’s important to be considered among many other outstanding debt the deceased may have had. Otherwise, it could go completely overlooked, and the hospital may be out of luck in collecting any of the outstanding amounts at all.

Of course, it’s important to note that if the decedent’s estate doesn’t have the assets to cover the entirety of the debt, there’s a risk that no debt can be collected at all.

Laws differ from state to state. Be sure you and your employees understand what their role is in the collection process before making contact.

Working Through the Family

However, in some cases, your accounts receivable department may work directly with the relatives of the deceased. Some state laws pass medical debts onto the surviving spouse of the deceased, or a hospital may still secure a guarantee of payment from anyone who owns property jointly with the deceased.

If this is the case, it’s very important to remember that the family is in mourning. They may be shocked in the event of sudden death, or simply burdened with the costs and hassle of funeral and burial. Patient satisfaction does not end with death. It’s still very important to the reputation of the hospital that family members are kept as satisfied with their experience as possible—bad PR can and does go viral and lead to very negative associations in the future.

If your A/R department is working directly with the family, they should employ empathy and understanding. No harassing phone calls, and no threats.

Ultimately, it’s important to have a calm, thorough discussion with any family members about the amount they may owe on behalf of a deceased patient. A calm discussion that shows you understand what they’re going through but also shows your need to manage the revenue cycle can make a big difference in whether or not the account is ever closed.

Cooler heads may not always prevail in a discussion like this, but it’s important for a hospital to do what it can to collect outstanding balances, even in the event of a death.