by Charles Blair, DDS
For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: value-oriented dentistry, spending, personal value, esthetics, Dr. Charles Blair.
During this recession, there have been significant shifts in how people buy. Initially, consumers decreased their spending, which decreased the demand for products. In response, companies lowered their prices to try and stimulate demand. But in a recent consumer survey of 26,000 consumers, Brand Keys* found that people are being smarter about what and how they buy, making their purchase decisions based on their perceptions of value rather than price alone.
So even though there is more caution on the part of consumers, they are investing money on products and services that bring them personal value. So, what does this mean to dentistry, and what can we do to provide more value to patients so they move forward with recommended dentistry?
If we better understand the things people value most, regardless of the product or service they are considering, it will give insight on how we can enhance our practices to better serve patients and enable more of them to get the dentistry they need and want.
So, what do people value in the context of the dental visit? Let's look at time, information, esthetics, and patient feelings.
In our busy society, one of the most valued resources is time. Everyone is looking to be as efficient with their time as possible, especially when they "invest" time in an activity they may find necessary but not particularly enjoyable. Also, for those who continue to be concerned about their job stability, taking time off work to go to the dentist for multiple appointments may not be feasible.
Most patients prefer to make fewer trips, spend less on gas, and spend less time away from work. This is good news for dentists because we prefer to do as much work as possible in one visit. Once we numb the mouth, we can be much more efficient doing quadrant or half-mouth dentistry than doing piece work.
To save our patients valuable time, we need to minimize the number of appointments required for their treatment, and educate them on how they benefit when we do quadrant dentistry rather than single-tooth dentistry.
One of the ways we need to make comprehensive dentistry more accessible is by offering multiple payment options, including a convenient monthly payment plan such as those offered by CareCredit's health-care credit card. This way they do not think they have to settle for minimal care due to finances.
Other ways to respect patients' time include offering weekend or evening hours to do dentistry at their convenience, not ours. Having technology in place, such as CEREC or E4D, allows dentists to offer same-day dentistry. This is another way to save time for our valued patients.
Consumers are more informed and value information. Through the Internet, they literally have a world of information right at their fingertips. Dentists do, too. With today's digital office and the resources available through associations and consultants, we can now provide patients with information that not only enhances the value of the dentistry we provide, but also helps them make decisions that are in their best interest.
As mentioned previously, helping patients understand the benefits of quadrant dentistry in terms of time savings, potential cost savings, and the decreased possibility of further disease can help them make a more informed decision.
Another area in which we can help patients and add value is to provide information on how their insurance benefits work and how they can best be used to help achieve optimal oral health. In employer and consumer efforts, to get the most value for the least cost, we have seen PPOs increase about 60% during the last six years while indemnity plans have decreased at about the same rate.
In some areas of the country we also have seen widespread adoption of discount cards, where insurance companies sell their provider network for a fee. Our role is to help patients understand their insurance programs, how their benefits or negotiated pricing can help them achieve their oral health goals, and how we can provide financial solutions that bridge any gap between the cost of care and their insurance benefits.
People also highly value esthetics, especially when it comes to their personal appearance. With their access to information, patients may already know about, and prefer, more expensive treatment. For example, they may have researched options when it comes to replacing missing teeth and now prefer not to have a partial like their grandmother had (and who constantly complained about having to dislodge food from the partial).
This is why, even though cosmetic dentistry has declined during the recession, implants have been experiencing double-digit growth. Even though it is more expensive, if patients believe treatment will provide more value in terms of convenience, longevity, and appearance, cost may be less of an influencing factor. This means we should consistently provide patients with all their options – clinically and financially – and let them choose the solutions that work for them.
This is especially important with the baby boomers, often called the "Me Generation." As we are aware, our society is aging. The older the patient, the more prone he or she is to having missing teeth, periodontal disease, and other oral health issues. This generation not only wants to stay healthy, it wants to look young and vital.
Finally, above all, patients want to feel valued. They want to know they matter to you, not just because they choose to visit your practice, but because you want what's best for them. How patients feel when they walk out your front door will greatly determine how much value you have delivered and whether or not they return or recommend friends and family. This is why the patient experience and how your team interacts with every individual who calls or comes in the front door matters – every time.
*To view the study, visit http://www.brandweek.com/bw/special-reports/brandkey/2009/index.jsp
Dr. Charles Blair is an expert on practice profitability, fee analysis, insurance-coding strategies, and overhead control. He has degrees in accounting, business administration, mathematics, and dental surgery. He has consulted with thousands of practices, helping them achieve greater productivity and profitability. A respected author and publisher, Dr. Blair publishes the Coding with Confidence manual and Insurance Solutions newsletter. To learn more about Dr. Blair's publications and consulting services, please contact (866) 858-7596, send an e-mail to [email protected], or visit www.drcharlesblair.com and www.dental-ins-solutions.com.