I know people have strong opinions on the topic of cash deposits to schedule a surgery date.

My opinion on this has evolved.

The issues are:

  1. Are deposits even needed?
  2. If so, are they refundable?
  3. If so, how long before surgery must the date be cancelled to qualify for a refund?

The typical rationale for a deposit is that it locks the date in place for that patient. That slot is reserved for that patient and that patient alone.

This makes sense if supplies have to be ordered and/or the slot cannot reasonably be filled should the patient cancel too close to the scheduled date. In that situation, the surgeon is out of pocket for real costs. And, there’s an opportunity cost. The slot goes unfilled.

But, if the patient cancels three weeks before the scheduled date, there should be ample time to find a replacement to take that slot.

Further, a nonrefundable deposit puts a patient who is not sure about surgery in an awkward position. Do they forfeit their deposit and avoid having a surgery they do not want? Or do they half-heartedly have the surgery to avoid losing the deposit? If the latter, do not be surprised if that patient later expresses dissatisfaction – perhaps setting the stage for demanding a full refund.

My take: You only want to do elective surgery on patients who want to have the procedure. If there’s a complication or a problem, the patient will blame you for “pressuring” them. If they cancel within a reasonable period of time, I believe the patient should be allowed to walk. And receive their deposit back.

What’s a reasonable period of time?

For that, I have no answer.

10 minutes before the procedure is not reasonable.

Perhaps a few days.

My point is be reasonable.

I know that some practices like the idea of a non-refundable deposit to obtain a firm commitment from the patient. But, that firm commitment may be a barrier to saying yes. If the patient has to put down a large non-refundable deposit, their first instinct might be to say “Let me go home and think about it.” But, if the deposit is fully refundable, there’s less to think about. The patient is more inclined to say yes. (A shout out to Yellow Telescope for educating me on this dynamic.)

Hotels have figured this out.

Airlines….not so much.

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