By Cathy Jameson, PhD
Roy Botterell, Getty Images
In the second installment of a two-part series, the author explains how practitioners can increase case acceptance by addressing patient concerns about costs and financing.
Communicating with your patients about their financial responsibilities and payment options is one of the most challenging conversations you will have. If you have given a convincing presentation and patients want to proceed, yet indicate they will not, the reason, more than likely, is cost.
Below are some common patient concerns and some conversational scenarios that can help practitioners explain health care financing. These scripts can also help doctors ease the transition for those patients who may object to the changes in financial protocol.
Patient: "I've been paying Dr. Smith forever. Why can't I just keep on paying him the way I always have?"
Financial coordinator: "I can understand your confusion. However, we have changed our accounting methods and can no longer carry long-term accounts. We are now associated with a wonderful company, XYZ Financing, that works with us to offer convenient financing for our patients."
Patient: "Tell me more about this company. I don't understand."
Financial coordinator: "It's a financing company for dentistry. The program allows our patients to conveniently pay for this vital treatment from their monthly budgets."
Patient: "I don't know. Is this a difficult thing to do?"
Financial coordinator: "Not at all! The application is very easy. In fact, you can apply right here in our office. If you have any questions, I'd be glad to help you.
We can send your application over the Internet and will know immediately if the company will extend a line of credit to you. Then, you can schedule your first appointment. I know you are eager to begin treatment. That beautiful smile can be yours."
Patient: "Will they charge me interest?"
Financial coordinator: "Yes. Just like other financing programs, a service fee is involved. The fee is 1.75 percent or approximately $1.75 per month for every hundred dollars financed. That's not much, considering that you can now have those veneers you've wanted for so long and the monthly payments will fit your budget."
For an interest-free plan, the financial coordinator should utilize the following scenario:
Financial coordinator: "Believe it or not, Mr. Patient, there is no interest charged. You must make a minimum payment per month, which is 3 percent of the outstanding balance. But, if you pay off the entire amount within the time frame you select, there will be no interest charged.
And there is a safety net, should you be unable to pay your balance by the designated date. Your account would then convert to a revolving payment plan and you can continue to make a minimum payment per month. However, you will be charged all back interest. So, it is important that we work together to find a time frame that suits you."
Patient: "I don't know about this! I just wish I could pay Dr. Smith the way I used to!"
Financial coordinator: "I know how you feel. We have had other good, long-term patients who have felt the same way — until they found out they could still pay out their dentistry. In fact, their monthly payments are usually smaller, and they can take longer to pay their account. We have many families utilizing this plan. They love the convenience! And because of their available credit line, they can take better care of more family members."
Responding to objections
Remember: an objection, including the objection to cost, is actually a step forward in completing an agreement. An objection is an opportunity.
If you know that cost is going to be an objection, be proactive — bring it up first. This gives you an opportunity to turn a potential negative into a positive.
Doctor: "Mr. Patient, before I give you my diagnosis and explain my treatment recommendations, I want you to know that we have convenient, long-term financing available right here in our practice. I'm telling you this now so that we can both concentrate on the treatment I recommend.
"We will discuss your financial options fully. We want to make sure you are clear and comfortable with this important part of your treatment. But for now, let's focus on the treatment that I believe will help you reach your goals. Is that okay with you?"
If the patient expresses financial concerns after the case presentation, ask this question:
Doctor: "Is financing a concern for you?"
Patient: "Yes. I'm sure this will cost quite a bit."
Doctor: "I can appreciate your concern. That's why Jan is joining us today. She will discuss the total fee and the options we have for payment. Once we work out the financial arrangement, is there any other reason why we shouldn't go ahead?"
Patient: "No, I want to do this. I just need a way to pay for it."
Common financial objections
Objection: "It costs too much."
Business administrator: "You feel the fee is too high for the services we are recommending for you? Or is the investment difficult for you at this time?"
Patient: "I'm sure the treatment is worth the fee, but I can't afford this right now."
Business administrator: "I know how you feel! But would it be possible for you to proceed if we can make the financing comfortable?"
Business administrator: "How much per month could you invest?"
The patient's answer to this question lets you know if you should offer a MasterCard, Visa, Discover, or a health-care financing program.
Objection: "I need to think about it."
Financial coordinator: "I'm sure you wouldn't take the time to think about the treatment if you weren't interested. In order for me to be clear as to what you need to think about, let me ask — is it the specific treatment you need to think about, or is there some other type of dental care you'd like to receive?"
Patient: "I want this treatment. I know this is what I need! I'm sick of the mess in my mouth."
Financial coordinator: "Then, are you unsure about our practice providing your treatment?"
Patient: "Oh, no. I wouldn't have come here if I didn't trust you guys!"
Financial coordinator: "Well, may I ask, is it the investment? Are you concerned about the money?"
Patient: "Yes! I had no idea it would cost this much to get my teeth fixed! I don't know if I can afford this right now."
Financial coordinator: "If we can make the financing comfortable for you, would it be possible for you to go ahead with the recommended treatment?"
Patient: "Well, yes — if I can pay it out."
Financial coordinator: "Mr. Patient, I'm going to spend some time with you discussing your financial options. We have some wonderful alternatives, and I'm confident we can work this out with you. The last thing we want is for the fee to get in the way of you receiving the treatment you need."
In this closing sequence, the financial coordinator responded to the patient's questions with another question or with a clarifying response. She didn't jump to any conclusions, offer solutions, make judgments, or give advice. She did not become offended or angered by the patient's concern about the fee.
This closing sequence:
- Gives the patient a chance to uncover the barriers.
- Helps the financial coordinator clarify what kinds of obstacles are present.
- Asks a closing question that helps patients make a decision.
Objection: "If my insurance doesn't cover this, I can't get it done."
Business administrator: "We will do everything to help you maximize your insurance benefits. However, insurance is only a supplement. Based on information and experience with your insurance company, we can estimate very closely what we expect them to pay. You will be responsible for the balance. However, we want you to know that we have excellent payment options available in our practice and can assist you with that balance."
Financing the aesthetic case
One of the most fulfilling aspects of being a dentist is the ability to make a positive change that enhances a patient's self-worth and self-confidence. The rewards of providing cosmetic dental care are many:
- The challenge of performing intricate procedures.
- Enhancing your patient's self image.
- Having patients who want to be in the chair.
- Gratitude for your expertise.
- Healthy financial reward for your skill.
Offering convenient payment options addresses one of the major reasons why people do not proceed with treatment: the cost. If you can overcome this objection, more people will agree to cosmetic dental treatment.
Many people won't give themselves permission to invest in aesthetic dentistry. They consider treatment that merely improves appearance a selfish indulgence. However, if doctors can present cases as well as they perform the dentistry, patients will get excited about their options.
The financial conversation you have with a patient is an intimate one. How you handle this very personal communication will go a long way toward building strong relationships with your patients and increasing production. By carefully developing a financial system in your practice and by learning how to present payment options, overcome objections, and diffuse the fear of cost, you can take the lid off your practice productivity.
Dentists win because they get to do the kind of dentistry they have been so carefully taught to do. By proactively promoting convenient financing, production will increase significantly. And patients win because they don't have to put off needed or desired care. That's what I call win-win!
These financial options offer a myriad of benefits to patients:
- Small monthly payments.
- Longer time frame in which to pay their balance.
- Makes treatment immediately available.
Benefits to the practice:
- Improved cash flow.
- No accounts on your books.
- Reduced costs.
- Increased productivity, because more patients will proceed with treatment.
- Gives patients a better understanding of financial responsibility; thus, fewer disgruntled patients.
- Team members do not have to spend time or money on statements and collections.