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A dentist's insight on money

Jan. 3, 2023
Do you work to live? Or live to work? When your goals are aligned, it becomes easier to make and manage your money. Here's one dentist's insight.

Ayn Rand, Russian-born American writer and philosopher, said, “Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” When it comes to dentistry, our primary goal is to help patients attain health. For this service, we should be paid appropriately so we can sustain our practice, pay our team well, support our families, and be able to invest for the future. To achieve this, as the leader—or driver—there are two things we should focus on: making money and managing money.

Make money: Charge fees based on value delivered

Providing health care and making money are congruent. Dentists invested a lot of time and money to become skillful clinicians, so they deserve to be compensated appropriately. Before you even drive patients to your door, you need to understand your worth and charge appropriately. There are two kinds of fee increases: inflation increases and value increases. An inflation increase means adjusting your fees every year or two based on inflation and the cost of doing business. There are reports you can generate that will allow you to see what doctors around you are charging so you can adjust your fees accordingly. Every dental practice should be doing this regularly.

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A value increase is when you are doing things differently than those around you and the value that service/activity brings to your patients is worth an increase in fees. Let’s say there are two dentists in the same town offering porcelain veneers. One has done patient research and seeks to make the experience exceptional from start to finish, which involves more time and money for the dentist. This dentist offers a free video consult before the appointment, a smile test drive at the in-person consultation, a one-week turnaround time for the porcelain veneers, and a five-year warranty. The other doctor doesn’t offer any of those things and provides a three-week turnaround time for veneers. The first doctor would be justified in charging a higher fee and patients would pay it because more value is being offered. If you want to charge higher fees, make sure you are providing more value to your patients than those around you.

Make money: Open the new-patient funnel

There are many different ways to make money as a dentist. I have owned multiple practices, car dealerships, software companies, and even created my own line of dental products. While all these things have been sources of income, the most significant increase in income came when I focused on being really good at one thing. I believe the best way to increase your income as a dentist is to become the expert in your area for the thing you love most in dentistry, whether that’s implants, veneers, clear aligners, or even foundational dentistry. Then, use social media to let the world know who you are and what you do. Success will follow.

Another way to open the funnel is to remember there are three things that every patient wants to know: What are my treatment options? Who can I trust? How much is it going to cost? The secret to growing your practice and doing more of the dentistry that you love to do is to make it easy for people to do business with you. The current sales cycle in dentistry is broken. We make patients take time away from work and family to drive across town and spend an hour with us to get their questions answered. They come to that appointment with no idea of how much things are going to cost or what their options are. Then, we blindside them with expensive and complicated treatment plans. We do all of this without their spouse present and expect our patients to go home and explain everything that is needed. If you want to take better care of your patients and have a more profitable business, you must change your process and start offering prerecorded video consults. The virtual consult allows you to reach so many more potential patients and help them understand their options before they ever step foot into your practice.

Make money: Close more cases

The secret to financial success in your practice is trust, transparency, and simplicity. Make it easy for people to do business with you. The best way to close more cases is to stop looking for ways to close more cases. Stop using tactics and strategies. Stop trying to convince people what they need and just be completely intentional and transparent with them.

I start off every consult by saying, “We do things a little differently in our practice. You will notice today that you will not be sold anything. My only intention is to figure out what it is that you want and find a way to make that happen. If there is something that I see during the exam that will benefit you, I am going to talk about it and then you can decide if it’s something you are interested in doing. Then it’s up to you to let me know what you want to do and what works with your budget.”

Of course, cost is a concern for many. But when they value the dentistry you do, cost becomes less of a concern. Then you just need to enable patients to get what they want. When you can just be there to help people and disconnect yourself from needing people to buy from you, you will experience next-level success in your practice.

Manage money: Collect quickly

It is much easier to collect up front or at the time of service than it is to track down someone after the fact. There are few businesses out there that offer a service and let you pay later, so why are you doing it in your dental practice? Do you value your time? Do you offer quality dentistry? If so, then people should pay at the time of treatment.

When is the last time you paid in full for a house or walked into a car dealership and paid cash for a car? Most of us use financing to purchase things of high value that are important to us, so why aren’t you offering financing options to your patients?

Dentistry is expensive and paying in full isn’t an option for most of our patients. We complain about the fees we have to pay financing companies to get paid in full up front, and then we turn around and give treatment discounts to patients to close treatment and let them pay over time with the risk of never getting paid. How does that make any sense at all?

The best thing we ever did was to offer the CareCredit credit card as a payment option for our patients when we present treatment. We saw our case acceptance and profitability of the practice go up. We stopped offering several different forms of financing because it was confusing patients, and a confused consumer does nothing. Make patient financing a part of every case you present.

Manage money: Invest for now and the future

It’s important to invest in technology that enables exceptional patient care. It’s important to invest in your practice so it represents your brand and attracts high-quality patients. It’s important to invest in your team. Hiring amazing team members is the best place to invest the profits of the business. That will give the biggest return on investment and allow you to build the kind of business you enjoy showing up to every day. But it is also important to take some of that profit and buy the fast car, take the trip, or get the new house. I can write a whole article on this topic alone, but I’ll keep it simple. Life is short and you never know what the future will bring, so don’t forget to enjoy your success along the way.

To effectively manage your money, much of it should be done by a third party, including human resources, payroll, accounting, and investments. This will free up the doctor to do the things that will grow the business. You should spend time doing the things you are best at, and delegate everything else to those who are experts in those areas.

The question ultimately becomes, “Do you work to live? Or live to work?” I would argue, again, those are congruent, not opposing ideas. We work to live the lives we want, now and in the future. And we live to work because we enjoy what we do and the care we deliver to patients. When the two are aligned, it becomes much easier to make and manage our money.  

Author’s note: Learn how to create a social-proof account to attract patients. This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual advisors with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit (collectively, “Synchrony”), makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accepts no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in the article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

Editor's note:This article appeared in the December 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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