Doctor extends good bedside manner to debt collection by starting Debt M.D.

Any patient will tell you that a good bedside manner is just as important as solid medical credentials. As far as Dr. Hubert Fu is concerned, that extends as much to the practice of debt collection as it does to the practice of medicine.

Hoping for a kinder and gentler experience for both patient and physician, Fu co-founded Debt M.D., a collection service that operates on a philosophy of patient respect. It is a unique debt collection model, and one that is drawing quick attention. Debt M.D. is also believed to be the only physician-owned and -operated collection agency in the country.

[See also: Department of Treasury proposed rule takes aim at ER collection practices]

An anesthesiologist in Dallas, Fu began practicing medicine in 2004. He has always spent a part of each day on billing-related matters, and that has involved a certain degree of debt chasing.

“Quite often, I just wrote it off,” Fu said. But since the recession started five years ago, “I see it a lot more often.” That has led to a growing number of patient accounts in collections.

The problem, as Fu sees it, is that his customers didn’t go on reckless spending sprees or make unwise financial decisions – they just got sick. He said he feels the same sense of responsibility to help them in these bad times as he does with regard to their health. And he doesn’t want money matters to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.

Those feelings didn’t often align with the mission of collection agencies Fu encountered. They get paid a percentage of money collected, and they target the easiest and most vulnerable debtors – sometimes relentlessly, Fu said. Traditional collection agencies also focus on big money amounts at the expense of smaller debts, with low overall success rates.

So Fu decided that the best option was to start a new type of collection service. The hope is that with a strong transfusion of physician compassion, the service can work with patients for a longer-term solution that helps them, and ultimately collects more of the debt.

Fu’s philosophy is shared by partner Ray Cox, vice president of business development and principal at Debt M.D. Cox handles the consulting and training side of the business, while a third partner – Zack Ingram – deals primarily with actual collections.

Coming from the collections industry himself, Cox acknowledged the poor public image the field has. Still, “the vast, vast majority that works in our industry are good, upstanding people, trying to help the customer as well as the client. That doesn’t sell well, or get air time,” he said.

Having said that, “people with less than good morals can get into this industry and do all sorts of harm, and we see that all the time,” Cox said. He especially deplores the way customers are often treated by aggressive collection agencies.

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