Can your patients afford you?

March 1, 2004
You might glance at the title and assume this article is going to be about reducing fees to make dentistry more affordable. In fact, that's definitely not the point of this article.

Louis Malcmacher, DDS

You might glance at the title and assume this article is going to be about reducing fees to make dentistry more affordable. In fact, that's definitely not the point of this article. Dental fees have not increased in the same ways other health care services have over the last 30 years. Many practices set their fees below the average, thinking this will make it easier for patients to accept treatment.

My view is quite the opposite. The American consumer already believes dental fees are too high, no matter what you charge. Some believe even the discounted PPO and HMO fees are too much. Patients enter your office expecting the fees to be expensive.

No matter what our fees are, it is imperative to make dentistry affordable. The best way to do this now is by offering patient financing. Every other service industry offers financing to consumers. If you walk into a jewelry store to purchase a diamond bracelet, they will offer financing. I went to the Gap with my daughter. The Gap's prices aren't high. But guess what — they offered me financing. They explained that if I signed up for a Gap card, I would save 10 percent on my purchases. They also emphasized that I could of course buy more, since the payments would be by installment.

If you want to increase case acceptance, offer financing to every patient who walks through the door. A treatment plan that consists of a couple of crowns, a one-hour bleaching treatment, a prophy, exam, and bitewings adds up to about $3,000. When you tell patients the treatment will cost only $70 per month for 42 months instead of hitting them with the full amount, it communicates that the treatment really can be worked into their budgets.

Part of my treatment presentation is to reassure patients that we will work with them to make treatment affordable. By the time my office manager and I are finished with a case presentation, patients know we are on their side and are relieved to discover they really can afford the best dental treatment possible.

A number of financing companies serve the dental industry exclusively, including Citi Health Card, HELPcard, Enhanced Patient Financing, Dental Fee Plan, and CareCredit. Do they approve everyone for financing? Certainly not — it is their job to weed out those who cannot qualify. But these companies do approve approximately 70 percent of the people who apply.

When I look for a patient financing company, I check first for a nonrecourse arrangement. This means once the patient is approved for and obtains financing, the dental practice's only involvement is to receive payment. After that, if patients do not meet their obligations, the financing company does not hold practitioners accountable. Secondly, I look for a company that allows financing for current account receivables. This is extremely valuable for helping a patient settle an old account and also lets the same patient proceed with new treatment. The total can be bundled into a financing arrangement, which makes it easy for the patient to pay.

Finally, CareCredit has been the leader in many innovations in patient financing and they have pioneered the preapproval concept for dentistry. Preapproval is simple. All you need is the patient's name and address, and CareCredit can let you know quickly whether the patient will be approved. This will not appear on a patient's credit report and gives you a pretty good indication of your patient's ability to pay for your services. Preapproval is brand new to dentistry and is a wonderful innovation for the dental office.

If you don't offer patient financing in your office, you are actually losing patients. People want to proceed with the dentistry you recommend, but they need to be able to afford it. You can now help them get what they want, and when you help people get what they want, you'll get what you want — a successful, highly profitable office.

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is an international lecturer and author known for hiscomprehensive and entertaining style.An evaluator for Clinical Research Associates, Dr. Malcmacher is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. For more than two decades, Dr. Malcmacher has inspired his audiences to truly enjoy practicing dentistry by providing the knowledge necessary for excellent clinical and practice-management skills. His group dental practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead since 1988.For details about his speaking schedule, Dr. Malcmacher may be reached at (440) 892-1810 or via email at [email protected].

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