Louis Malcmacher, DDS
By having clear financial policies and easy-to-use payment plans, your office can increase your collections with less effort and stress.
Patients take our clinical skills for granted. They (rightly) assume that dentists are state-of-the-art professionals who know how to treat patients technically. Most dentists work very hard to improve their clinical skills. Continuing education is a high priority, and the level of expertise is remarkable as a result.
Unfortunately, what matters most to patients is not your clinical skills, but your business and practice-management skills. Most dentists don't put enough time and effort into the business side of their practices. This attitude is ironic, because business issues are what makes or breaks a practice.
One of the most important aspects of dental practice is coordinating financial arrangements. Most of the time, getting patients to pay for and afford their dentistry is much tougher than making a clinical diagnosis. In my office, overhead has been at 45 percent for the last 10 years. The reason is because we help patients afford their dentistry through the use of payment plans. An inviolable rule in our office is that all finances are discussed and agreed upon before any treatment is completed. I don't care if the case is for $25 or $25,000 - I will not begin treatment until the patient has spoken to our office manager and made proper financial arrangements.
One of the easiest payment plans available for nearly every patient is Visa, MasterCard, or Discover Card. I am still amazed at the number of dental offices that do not accept these cards as a convenience for their patients. You get paid instantly, and it's worth the 2 to 3 percent cost for that money to be in your, rather than the patient's, bank account.
Another option is using one of the many fine patient-financing companies. Financing can be accomplished easily through your office. All it takes is a few minutes of the patient's time and your staff's time to get the system in motion. These companies can be accessed through automated phone systems, fax, or the Internet. Once the patient's application is in hand, the financing company can deliver an answer within minutes. This means you can start treatment that day and get paid!
The advantages to using this kind of system are many. It is convenient for many patients to have a separate line of credit strictly for their dental needs, and it keeps their regular credit cards free of large balances. The money usually is deposited into your account within one to three days, which helps your cash flow. Once patients pay off their balance, they can continue to use this credit line for their dental needs. If a patient is denied credit, your office won't look like the bad guy. After all, if these professional banking companies won't lend money to the patient, the patient certainly will not expect your office to extend credit, either.
Some of the more popular patient-financing companies are Dental Fee Plan, Medcash, CareCredit, and Wells Fargo. Shop around to see which one or two of these companies can provide your office with the best service.
Fine-tuning the financial end of dentistry takes work and practice. By having clear financial policies and easy-to-use payment plans, your office can increase your collections with less effort and stress. This also helps your patients get the kind of dentistry they need and deserve while significantly reducing the stress in the office. The dental experience will be much more pleasant for you - and your patients.
Dr. Louis Malcmacher is an internationally known lecturer and author, known for his practical and entertaining style. Dr. Malcmacher is an evaluator for CRA and is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. He works closely with dental manufacturers as a clinical researcher in developing new products and techniques. His group general practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead since 1988. For more information on his speaking schedule, Dr. Malcmacher can be reached at (440) 892-1810 or via email at email@example.com.