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How dental practices can capitalize on digital payment trends

Oct. 26, 2021
If you want to keep your patients loyal, it's time to offer a digital payment option. Patients have come to expect ease when it comes to handling their finances.

Keeping up with technology changes is both exciting and daunting. On one hand, technology opens new areas of opportunity through speed and automation. On the other, acclimating to change takes us out of our comfort zones and challenges the status quo. Two terms come to mind when I think about how to capitalize on the current digital payment trends: flexibility and contactless.

Flexibility. It’s easy to say but can be difficult to implement when your busy dental practice manages multiple, competing priorities. Patients, however, expect flexibility when it comes to payment options, and they have high expectations and want to see them fulfilled.

Contactless. While this has become a synonym for safety, contactless also replaces manual-based processes. A challenge for practices is how to identify which complex or paper-based processes should be replaced with automated, digital methods. Some practices think that switching to digital methods is not necessary because they believe these methods would cause confusion. Ultimately, the question is how can you be sure a technology change is the right decision for your practice?

What’s your next move?

Research shows that patients, especially bridge millennials, millennials, and generation Z, are dissatisfied with complicated and unintuitive payment methods that create friction between them and their dental providers. According to a recent study conducted by PYMNTS and Rectangle Health, “35% of bridge millennials and younger patients are willing to switch health-care providers to find better digital health-care management tools.”1

This frustration with traditional payment processing procedures is creating a move toward digital experiences that compares with the ease of paying for services such as Netflix and Amazon. This creates an opportunity for dental practices to smooth the experiences for patients and workflows for the staff.

Staying up to date with your patients’ evolving payment preferences may seem like an arduous task. You may wonder how you can be assured they will use new methods once you’ve tailored your payment protocols to their expectations. Adopting new digital payment methods and adding flexible payment options may not seem like risks worth taking but making these adjustments can help your practice grow its revenue and retain patients.  

What patients want

Reticence about switching to digital options and processes is not an uncommon reaction for dental practices that have had protocols in place for a long time. It’s important to note, however, that patient preferences for flexibility, especially regarding access to payment plans, are driving them away from traditional, complicated payment processing methods and into practices where contemporary methods are in use. Patient experience has quickly become a motivating factor for patients’ provider selection. A positive payment can enhance their overall health-care experience. The more accessible the payment options are, the more appealing the practice becomes.

Offering patients flexible payment plans is one way to settle balances that may sit in accounts receivable for an undetermined amount of time before being paid. This option also promotes recurring payments that can help keep your practice thriving financially by providing a steady stream of revenue. Importantly, payment plan adoption shows that your practice cares about the financial strain many patients face. If you’re willing to tailor payments on a schedule that works for your patients, this often leads to a better financial outcome and loyalty to your practice.

According to the PYMNTS study, “56% of consumers are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ interested in payment plans.”1 We also can see how pervasive this is from a retail perspective—installment payments are an option at check-out for most mobile and online purchases. Similarly, patients are looking for ways to manage their finances and break down balances into smaller payments.

How easy is it for your patients to submit payment for an appointment? Waiting weeks for a bill can be a hassle for them. As they assign priority to their financial obligations, many patients intend to pay for their dentistry but simply can’t at that specified time. These bills often require multiple follow-ups that delay payment and frustrate all parties involved. This is where payment plans come in, as they introduce a compromise for both the practice and patient.

Consider how much of your patients’ journey is digital versus manual. From making an appointment to paying balances online, today’s patients are looking for the convenience of going to a website to manage their health care. Contactless payments are appealing because they reduce the physical contact often required to process payments. Furthermore, digital wallets, touch-to-pay cards, and mobile wallet apps such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay create a one-step process that makes capturing payments more efficient and less involved, giving your staff more time to focus on other priorities.

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What’s in it for your practice?

Expanding your practice’s digital payment options will allow for greater workflow efficiency and serve to retain your patients. Today’s young adults have grown up as digital natives. Research shows that they are more likely than baby boomers and seniors to abandon providers that do not provide digital health-care management tools. Understanding this generational impact and employing digital payment solutions can help patients stay loyal to your practice, leading to increases in business and overall satisfaction with care.

It can be difficult to have an open conversation with your patients about financial arrangements. Providing options, whether flexible payment plans, text to pay, online payments, or capturing their preferred card on file for future payments, can help make those conversations easier. Expediting payments and resolving debts that may otherwise sit in accounts receivable for substantial amounts of time are also beneficial for the practice. For example, payment plans can add much-needed flexibility for patients who need to pay off large balances over time. According to the PYMNTS study, “Patients across all demographics report interest in covering bills that insurance will not pay for with affordable payments.”1

If your practice can adopt these digital, flexible payment solutions, you could see an uptick in business. By providing patients with payment plans and more robust ways to pay their balances, your practice could see more accountability regarding patient payments and potentially be able to recover more payments more reliably without involving a third party to collect debt.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the October 2021 print edition of Dental Economics.

Reference

1. What consumers want from their healthcare customer experiences. Rectangle Health. July 2021. Accessed August 9, 2021. https://www.rectanglehealth.com/whitepapers/connected-healthcare-report/

With more than 20 years of experience in the payments industry, Michelle Dowling is the vice president of marketing at Rectangle Health, a leading health-care technology company. Dowling has spent the last eight years dedicated exclusively to the health-care community, helping practitioners leverage technology, especially Rectangle Health’s flagship product, Practice Management Bridge, to maximize the revenue cycle and enhance the provider-patient relationship.

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