Defined and distinct processes that ensure quality systems are the backbone to a thriving practice. The financial conversation is one of those processes. Since there may be anxiety around the topic of money, the financial conversation is one of the most critical dialogues the dental team can have with patients. Financial conversations have three distinct steps: a trifecta of value, cost, and payment solutions.
Deliver value instead of recommending dentistry
Most patients don’t really care to understand the clinical aspects of the dentistry you will be doing. Instead, they want to know their condition, how the dentistry you are recommending is a solution to that condition, and how treatment will improve their life. For example, you are not just filling a tooth; you are offering to eliminate the decay so the patient doesn’t have to get a crown, and they can keep the tooth and eat without pain. You are a catalyst to care, enabling your patients to enjoy the benefits of health and hopefully keep their dental costs down. If patients don’t value the care and quality of life your work brings, then it doesn’t matter what it costs or the payment solutions that are available.
When it comes to communicating the value of care, the doctor should take the lead, while the team consistently and confidently supports the doctor in the diagnosis and how it will benefit the patient’s life. It’s all one consistent message, repeated, that builds trust with the patient.
Confidently communicate cost
Talking about money can sometimes be hard because there is often worry from all sides—the dentist, team, and patient. The dentist may worry about the fees and their patients’ perceptions of them. Are they too high or too low? Patient comments may increase worry around the cost conversation. For example, if a patient has said, “I’ve just paid for your fancy family vacation (or your new car) with this crown,” this can linger in the back of the dentist’s mind and make them want to avoid being perceived as some rich dentist taking advantage of others. Alternatively, “Wow, Doctor; that’s pretty cheap!” never made any dentist jump for joy.
The team may worry when talking about money because they may perceive some treatment to be expensive. Cost is relative; what’s expensive to one person might not be to another. Preconceived ideas of expense or what patients can afford may create worry around the financial conversation. Training becomes a critical task to prepare the team for these conversations. Role-playing is great because it enables team members to practice with each other instead of “practicing” on a patient and possibly sending mixed messages around patient finances.
Finally, patients worry about money because they may be uninformed or unprepared for the cost of care or concerned about how to fit unplanned dental costs into their family budget. They may worry they aren’t getting a good price or that their insurance company isn’t paying their fair share. Communicating costs openly with your patients is important because you never want the patient to be surprised later.
So where do you start? Cost conversations should begin when patients have any financial responsibility and need to be prepared to make a payment. Again, no surprises. If the practice accepts insurance, the focus of the initial conversation should be to welcome the patient to the practice and get them on the schedule. The practice can choose whether to have a fee discussion at that time, but it should not hinder getting patients scheduled. Once care recommendations are made and the team has had the opportunity to verify how the patient’s benefits will contribute to care, the cost conversation happens again. In a fee-for-service practice, the cost conversation should always be part of the initial phone call so that the patient is informed and prepared to make a payment at the initial appointment.
Provide payment solutions, not options
Patients can value the care and understand cost and insurance benefits, but if they aren’t offered a means to pay for it, they may not be able to get from point A to point B on their own. Whether the cost is solely the patient’s responsibility or there is a gap between the cost and insurance contribution, it’s important that patients know they can get treatment done with a payment option that works for them.
Say this to your patient: “Mrs. Jones, when we apply your benefits to the cost of care as we discussed, you have a patient payment of $800 due today. We have payment solutions available if you would prefer to pay over time.”
Let the patient decide how they want to handle payment. Some just pull out a credit card and pay the amount up front in full. Others would prefer to pay over time. We have accepted the CareCredit credit card in our practice for quite a while. It is a tried-and-true company that has, like me, been through many economic cycles and has stayed the course. At this time, patients are even more appreciative of being able to take advantage of promotional financing.
With inflation and what could be a challenging economy, patients may have even more worry around the topic of money, so it’s important that your team be aware, empathetic, consistent, and even more ready to provide solutions that enable dental care.
Author’s note: 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.