Why aren't hygienists discussing financial options?

Feb. 1, 2009
Practice philosophies pertaining to the hygiene department include prevention, disease management, and cosmetics.

by Anastasia L. Turchetta, RDH

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: preventative hygiene, cosmetic practice, quality care, Anastasia Turchetta.

Practice philosophies pertaining to the hygiene department include prevention, disease management, and cosmetics. Preventative-oriented practices may include chairside screening with technology assistance. Disease management focuses on treatment of the current disease state, and cosmetic services include chairside whitening and aligning malocclusion.

Hygienists frequently discuss how to deliver quality care and provide prompt treatment at the same time. The successful combination of both case acceptance and patient compliance hinges upon clear, yet detailed, communication within the practice. If a high percentage of treatment-planning is performed by hygienists, why aren't financial options included in the discussion? Three possible reasons are:

  • A lack of familiarity with what the practice has to offer
  • Not explaining the benefit to the patient
  • Not understanding how financial options benefit the practice

When patients ask whether or not their insurance will cover a service, hygienists often encourage them to seek out this information on their own. After all, it's not the practice's responsibility to explain how patients' insurance benefits work, is it? The answer is no.

That said, it is the staff's professional responsibility to become familiar with any financial options the practice offers. The staff should know the details of these options, and help patients choose the option that will work best for their individual situations.

Develop an action plan

Your action plan to educate staff members about the financial options your practice offers should begin with a staff meeting. The focus of the meeting should be the details of the financial options available to your patients. Designate each team member's role for effectively relaying these options to your patients.

Consider a team exercise to look at the practice's upcoming schedule for both restorative and preventative procedures. Randomly select a few patients on the schedule, and check their charts. Review their current oral health problems, and then brainstorm ideas to arrive at a way patients can pay for the services they need with the help of one of your financial options.

Understand the decision patients must make between financing treatment with the use of a credit card that might carry a high interest rate, or delaying treatment. One advantage of using a credit card plan (such as CareCredit®) in your office is the preapproval process.

Use hygiene chart audits to discover unscheduled or incomplete treatment prior to your morning huddles. Remember, many services in hygiene aren't fully supported by patients' insurance plans, but this should not deter you from recommending optimum care.

Talking about financial options chairside

For example, let's say you are performing a comprehensive exam on a 35-year-old new patient whose health history reveals some risk factors for periodontal disease. The hygienist takes full-mouth radiographs and periodontal recordings. Following additional codiagnostic assessments, the treatment plan calls for periodontal therapy. The patient accepts the treatment plan and is eager to schedule therapy.

The glitch occurs when your office administrator informs you that the patient's dental insurance won't cover periodontal therapy for eight more months. Do you decide to place her in the dental plan misfit category or take immediate action chairside?

Here's one way to deal with the problem. The hygienist might say to the patient: “Cecelia, Dr. Wilson is very concerned about your active periodontal disease. We would like to begin treatment as soon as possible. The predetermined limitations of your insurance plan should not deter you from your goal of total oral health. Our practice offers a financial option plan that specializes in affordable care for you and your family members. I'd be glad to submit a preapproval form for you or give you information about the company that provides this financial option for us. You can then complete the application form online at your convenience.”

A ticket to health and wellness

Without financial options, many services might be out of your patients' reach. Not only does this affect hygiene, but it also ripples down into the restorative side of the practice. Having at least one financial option for your patients is their ticket to health and wellness.

Did you know?

You might be surprised to know that CareCredit not only provides patient financing for dental procedures, but extends into other areas such as eye care, hearing aids, cosmetic, veterinary, chiropractic, and weight management services.

I have shared a story about my beloved Siberian Husky, Dakota, with many of my pet-friendly patients. He required surgery in December of 2007 for removal of a tumor. CareCredit helped me afford the cost of this important surgery for my friend.

Today, Dakota continues to enjoy a healthy life. I could not have afforded his treatment had it not been for CareCredit, and I would not have known about CareCredit if we did not offer this service in our dental practice.

So, a benefit we offer our dental patients turned out to be one that helped me in another area of health care.

Talking about financial options with patients at chairside was once viewed as taboo, and at the very least, uncomfortable or awkward. Now we know it is an essential component in the communication process to increase case acceptance and patient compliance.

Anastasia L. Turchetta, RDH, is a national and international speaker, author, and coach. Empowerment and education via a no-sleep atmosphere are granted for the audience, promoting her quest for a team-centered, patient-focused atmosphere. She maintains memberships with NSA, SCN, ADHA, and the ADA. Turchetta is a featured author in “Conversations of Health and Wellness,” and creator and author of “Just a Cleaning?,” an interactive-assisted hygiene guide that contains a unique collaboration of her 20 years of clinical hygiene experience and coaching format. Contact her at www.anastasiardh.com.

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