Diagnosing the wallet

Isn`t it frustrating when you present a terrific treatment plan, only to watch it unravel because you don`t have the one critical piece of information that most often decides the fate of your plan - the patient`s budget? Wouldn`t it be great if you knew, before recommending care, what your patient`s budget is? It`s not "Mission Impossible" to ask your patients what their budget for dental care is.

Paul Homoly, DDS

"Knock, knock."

"Who`s there?"

"Ammonia"

"Ammonia who?"

"Ammonia gonna tell you once, offer care within your patient`s budget."

Isn`t it frustrating when you present a terrific treatment plan, only to watch it unravel because you don`t have the one critical piece of information that most often decides the fate of your plan - the patient`s budget? Wouldn`t it be great if you knew, before recommending care, what your patient`s budget is? It`s not "Mission Impossible" to ask your patients what their budget for dental care is.

I can sense you`re resisting what I`m saying. "No way, José," you might tell me. "I can`t ask them what they can afford! They`ll think I`m diagnosing their wallets."

You already diagnose their wallets. You do it by offering complete care and quoting a big fee. "No," the patient says, "what else can you do?" Then you offer Plan B with a lower fee. The patient says, "Still too much." You offer Plan C with the lowest fee, and the patient finally says okay. Congratulations, you`ve just diagnosed that person`s wallet! You did it by trial, error, blood, sweat, and tears. It`s a lot easier on everyone to ask about budget restraints before you recommend complete care.

The wedding dress

Imagine you`re a 25-year-old woman and you and your bridesmaids are shopping for a wedding dress. You walk into a bridal show- room. The saleslady whisks you up, takes you to the fitting area, and hands you a snow white gown in a clear vinyl bag. You slip it on, you pose on the fitting platform; you look into the mirror, and see that it`s perfect. It`s better than perfect - it`s everything any woman has ever dreamed of and more! Your bridesmaids clutch their hands and sigh.

Then you notice a little yellow tag hanging from the elbow. You read it and it says, "$15,000." For an instant, you hope that it`s a terrible mistake, but in a heart beat more, you realize that this dress can never be yours. Your bridesmaids freeze, and while they watch your eyes become liquid, the dark cloud of your budget casts its long shadow.

"I had no idea this dress was so expensive," you gasp to the sales-lady.

"Well, if it`s more than you can spend, let`s go over to the bargain rack and see what`s left," she replies.

Your wedding will never be the same. You were so close, but so far away.

When we don`t have an idea about what our patient`s budget is, we put many of them in the position of being so close, but so far way.

Discovering and discussing the patient`s budget, prior to offering complete care, helps take the stress out of fee objections. Don`t try to overcome fee objections with pushy sales antics. Instead acknowledge fee objections by assuring the patient you can work within his or her budget. Most complete care cases can be done in segments over time.

Often, the best response to fee objections, no matter how strong, is to offer to stay within the patient`s budget.

Patients may voice fee objections on the telephone, during the examination, or while having radiographs taken.

Examples of fee objections:

Receptionist on telephone:"I understand your concern about costs. Dr. Jarvis is excellent about staying within your budget."

Chairside assistant taking radiographs: "I guarantee you Dr. Fish will work within your budget and schedule."

Hygienist at initial appointment: "You`ll appreciate how Dr. Misch works within your budget."

Take time to discover what is appropriate for each patient`s budget. Don`t let the long, dark shadow of the patient`s budget dim your relationship. If patients have budget issues, discover them early and make it acceptable to work within their budget. You`ll do a lot more complete-care dentistry when you can handle budget issues smoothly.

Dr. Homoly coaches dental teams to implement reconstructive dentistry through his continuing-education workshops, private consulting, and seminars. This column is an excerpt from his new book, Isn`t It Wonderful When Patients Say Yes? - Case Acceptance for Complete Dentistry. Dr. Homoly can be reached at (704) 342-4900 or via e-mail at phomoly@mindspring.com. Visit his Web site at www.paulhomoly.com.

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