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3 steps to great financial conversations

Jan. 28, 2015
As part of providing a great experience for your patients, one of the most important discussions you can have with them is when you share their financial responsibilities and financing options. Great financial conversations provide full disclosure and set patient expectations as early in the relationship as possible, often before their first appointment.

Bete Johnson

As part of providing a great experience for your patients, one of the most important discussions you can have with them is when you share their financial responsibilities and financing options. Great financial conversations provide full disclosure and set patient expectations as early in the relationship as possible, often before their first appointment.

Step 1:

Set expectations early

Today's patients are empowered by immediate and broad access to information on the Internet. When searching for a dentist, online information may be the first interaction a patient has with your practice. Your website and often your social media sites are frequently used to introduce patients to your practice, doctors, and team. Therefore, these channels can be an ideal place to include information about your financial policy and payment options, helping you set a consistent experience and foundation for a great financial conversation.

Patients should be able to easily understand how your practice manages dental benefits, including accepted insurance plans and available payment options. It's important to let patients know what financing options are available. This can help them focus on their care and alleviate some of their concerns about insurance benefits and how to fit treatment into their budgets.

Another opportunity you have to set financial expectations for new patients is when they call to schedule an appointment. "Mrs. Jones, we're excited to see you on Tuesday at 3, and we look forward to becoming your new dental home. If you have a few minutes, you may want to take a look at our practice website before your appointment. It's filled with great information about our services, doctor, and team, as well as directions and important financial information."

Starting the financial conversation as early as possible in the relationship can help minimize miscommunication and unmet expectations.

Step 2:

Ask the right questions

Asking the right questions sets the foundation for a great financial conversation and turns it into a dialogue that enables patients to be heard and the team to respond appropriately.

Ask patients if they have clarity

To begin the financial conversation, it's important to make sure a patient understands what dentistry is being recommended and the benefits of that care. "Mrs. Jones, Dr. Smith has made his care recommendations. I know it's a lot of information to consider, so I'd like to go over the recommended treatment with you, what to expect, your questions, and the next steps."

Ask patients if they are aware

Cost remains one of the primary barriers to care. The key is to provide information before a patient asks about payment options. "Mrs. Jones, let's go over the investment in your care and what your dental insurance benefits may contribute. Are you aware of all the payment options available to you through our practice? Of course we accept cash and all major credit cards. We also accept the CareCredit credit card. I'll be happy to assist you with any additional information."

Ask patients what's convenient

Once all questions and concerns about treatment and payment are addressed, you can help patients schedule their appointments. Offering scheduling choices can help them overcome concerns they may have about fitting care into their schedules. "Mrs. Jones, I'm glad I was able to address your concerns. Let's go ahead and find some time in your schedule that's convenient for you."

Step 3:

It's what you say and what they see

People learn differently. Verbal learners learn best when they hear something, and experiential learners learn best by doing. But many people are visual learners who most readily recall what they see and read. This means that, during the financial conversation, it's not only what you say, but also what patients see that's important.

Effective visual aids

When doctors discuss treatment recommendations with patients, they often use digital photos or other visual aids to help patients "see" what's going on in their mouths. Using visual aids during the financial conversation can be just as helpful.

1. A written financial policy shows patients what payment options are available to them at your practice. The policy can include how dental insurance is managed, as well as all payment and financing options.

2. A payment chart or payment calculator makes it easy for patients who prefer to finance care, or who have CareCredit, to see their estimated monthly payments so they can choose the option that best fits their needs.

Body language is important in providing a better patient experience, especially when discussing treatment and financial options. Eye contact and a confident posture are critical elements of better body language. If a dental team member avoids eye contact or appears uncertain when communicating treatment information or when having financial conversations, patients may also become uncertain.

Better body language includes:

1. Sitting up straight and smiling. Keep your body posture open and approachable.

2. Making eye contact.

3. Relaxing your shoulders.

4. Nodding to acknowledge patients when they are talking.

5. Leaning in, positioned toward the patient.

By setting expectations early - asking the right questions and mastering your body language to communicate confidence and your sincere interest in helping patients get care - the more successful your financial conversations will be with your patients.

Bete Johnson, a 20-year sales, marketing, and practice management professional, is vice president of business development for CareCredit. She has been a core member of the CareCredit leadership team for almost 15 years. Through her engagement with dental professionals, including consultants, associations, practices, and suppliers, Bete provides the opportunity to network and foster relationships that enhance the dental profession.

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