We all know that the law is for boring people, but it is also about rules which must be slavishly followed, and if not, will have terrible consequences for you in court. This is called compliance and it more about the business risks you expose your company to than anything else.
Just this week we had an interesting, if boring, I am sorry, case. A client underwent a medical procedure and as it is with these things, the medical fund or aid, is heavily involved, approving it beforehand. Logically they then receive the account, bills, from the doctors and pay out if correctly claimed. When there is a shortfall on payment, the patient is liable. This is common sense.
However, the law states very clearly in every country in the world that the patient / debtor must be informed that he owes the money and when it is due. Only then, the process is called "to be placed in mora," can the countdown begin to when the money becomes overdue and a problem. Up to then, and unless you did the above, you will never win any collection case in court. Yes, it is boring but fair, and what happens is that the patient is not informed that the medical aid failed for whatever reason, to pay the doctor fully. There is now a shortage which can be insignificant amounts or large, it does not matter, the principle is the same. The doctor then appoints someone to collect the money and the first text message is always a threatening one stating that the "the account is 30 days overdue" please pay.
Such a message is designed to infuriate me. In the first place, under law, the account is NOT 30 days overdue. In the second place, the patient, still recovering and elderly, gets a terrible fright, feels terribly bad and immediately pays even if it means getting up from sickbed. It leaves an extremely bad taste in the mouth of that patient, feeling abused and rightly so. And I must point out, it is not only medical men who are guilty of such shenanigans in law, everyone does it and they usually say they are from "legal" so you can get a proper fright even though none of them has much legal knowledge.
In my book, Your Worst Enemy, we spoke about the shenanigans of debt collecting at some length. I have expert knowledge, I hold two law degrees, I spent 5 long years at college and another six months at law school and passed my bar exams before practising as an attorney for eight years. I know all the tricks and quite a few you don’t know. You try the above to me, and I will hammer you and call your bluff and you will lose rather badly in court. But that is not really the point, what angers me is the lack of legal knowledge among the public. They don’t know the law, they stay abused and always will be. This is about legal risk and business risk.
It is pathetic in business to annoy a client and even worse a patient, where you automatically destroy the trust relationship so valued. Remember, this guy has not, repeat not, refused to pay you, he has not, repeat not, even been informed he owes the money, and yet, he is accused of being overdue! Let me explain, such action, will anger anyone, really it will and saying it is a system or computer error will not help your case, it is actually an admission of guilt. What good can come from antagonising your client without reason? All that will happen, as I pointed out, is that you, the doctor, will from now on be exposed as a fellow who threatens elderly patients for a few dollars (and see how the public hates you). You lie in your demands (so you are a lawyer too) and you obviously don’t know the law (which will be abused against you). This will cost you dearly in the long run, you lose patients, you run the risk of this escalating into a full blown court case which you will lose, badly, with punishing costs. You should get your systems sorted, your staff trained properly, and be compliant to the law, otherwise, try me, as I said in my police days. I am more than willing to come out swinging and I am not alone, many millions will agree, there is no reason to conduct business in such a way.
It is an entire odd fact that I found most people actually do wish to pay debts. See how many likes giving gifts, but dislike receiving? They are not bad people, if they can afford medical aid, I assure you, they can pay you also. Many doctors absolutely insist on medical aids or cash up front. I had some say to me over private discussions, that they will never deal with non medical aid members, they don’t want aggro to collect money afterwards. I get that, I also know I will never support such a doctor whose priorities in life is wrong, but that is me. Any professional and any labourer (according to God) is entitled to a fair wage, if owed, you should be paid, it is written.
What annoys me is the way the collection is done, by lies, misinformation, uncalled for illegal threats and what for? Know the law, read my books even if boring, so you can defend yourself against such business practices. The same for the one being owed, follow the law to the letter, don’t take short cuts, and you will have a good chance in court. I cannot help you if your backroom is not properly sorted, that includes contracts with very specific clauses designed to protect you. If you don’t, you will most certainly come of second best against people like me.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.