According to the Patients' Decision Path to Purchase Dental Care study,1 the initial financial conversation may be one of the most important dialogues in the practice. It's during this conversation that patients could decide if they're going to accept the dentistry they need and want. A key consideration in their decision-making process is the cost of care, how that cost fits into their family finances, and the payment options available to them.
Dental teams differ in the way they integrate financing into their practice systems and utilize it to help patients accept care. The dental team's perception of patients' financing needs and preferences could influence how, when, and which payment options are offered, and they shouldn't. Generally, there are three primary ways dental teams introduce and discuss financing with patients during the critical financial conversation.
The reactive offer
Many dental teams may offer financing in reaction to a request from a patient for a monthly payment option, when a patient hesitates to accept care, or when a patient tells the team specifically that cost is a concern. Financing as a solution is kept out of sight, tucked in the drawer, and used as a "last resort" only if a patient has no other way to pay. These dental teams put the responsibility of finding a payment solution on the patient, not the practice.
The lost opportunity with a reactive financing offer is that patients may not ask or may not share their cost concerns and instead leave the practice without committing to care because they weren't offered a payment solution that works for them. Some may return in the future, but others may seek a dental home that provides them more financial flexibility.
The selective offer
These teams determine which situations are appropriate to introduce financing as a payment solution to patients. For example, financing is offered only when patients are new to the practice, have no insurance, or their out-of-pocket expense hits a certain dollar threshold. The downside to being selective with offering financing is that when practices limit options, patients might limit the amount of recommended care they accept, or they might choose not to accept care at all. According to the Patients' Decision Path to Purchase Dental Care study, 39% of patients who used a CareCredit health-care credit card to pay for their dental care said they would have chosen not to purchase the dentistry if CareCredit had not been available to them.1
"I would have had to get the minimal dental treatment, extraction without any restorative work without CareCredit," said Susan D., cardholder. "Instead, I was able to get the dental work that gave me a nice smile."
The proactive offer
Many dental teams have learned that before they can help patients clinically, they must address patients' concerns regarding cost and how they're going to pay. They have fully integrated financing into their practice systems and introduce it along with all other payment options, which allows patients to choose what's best for their situation. They believe that part of their responsibilities as health-care providers is to do everything they can to remove any barriers to care, such as money, time, or fear, and to give patients every opportunity to accept recommended treatment.
"We decided to just try and see how it worked," said Dr. Ryan Jones. "We offered CareCredit to everyone for a month. If it didn't work, we knew we could always go back. When I look at the dentistry we've been able to do and the services we've been able to give patients because of CareCredit, it's made a huge difference. It allows patients to accept and plan for comprehensive treatment that they never would have been able to otherwise. Doctors who are not using CareCredit are losing an opportunity to help their patients."
The Patients' Decision Path to Purchase Dental Care study found that patients turn to the dentist and team to provide information, advice, and solutions, especially during the initial visit when treatment is recommended and discussed. Because cost can be a key barrier to care, if solutions are not readily available to patients, they might walk out the door without committing to care to "think about it," or to "discuss it with family."
Limiting your practice's payment options and taking a reactive or selective approach can limit patients' ability to accept recommended treatment. Conversely, proactively introducing financing early in the financial conversation helps patients focus on the benefits of care, not the barrier of cost, even for small treatment amounts. The study found 29% of patients would be very likely or extremely likely to apply for or use CareCredit for fees of only $200. That percentage increased to 49% for fees of $1,000.1
It's impossible to know patients' financial needs and preferences unless they've shared the information. We all know that patients' financial situations can change. The study confirmed that of those patients who were not aware that financing was available, 49% of them would have been interested if it enabled them to receive care immediately. Because patients have different expectations today, giving all patients the ability to choose what's best for them by consistently and proactively including financing as a payment option will help more people accept care, which benefits the practice.
For a copy of the complete Patients' Decision Path to Purchase Dental Care study, call (800) 859-9975, select option 1, then dial 6.
1. Van Buskirk SD. Path to Purchase Research Dental Industry. Study conducted for Synchrony Financial by Rothstein Tauber Inc. CareCredit.com. http://www.carecredit.com/assets/views/news/files/13948_Whitepaper_072315.pdf. Published September 2014. Accessed April 10, 2016.
Bete Johnson, a 20-year sales, marketing, and practice management veteran, is vice president of sales for CareCredit. She has been a core part of the CareCredit team for over 14 years, and was recognized as one of the Top 25 Women in Dentistry. Through her engagement with dental professionals, including consultants, associations, practices, and dental suppliers, Bete provides the opportunity to network and create new relationships that benefit the dental profession.