Are limited payment options frustrating your patients?

The cost of dental care is a chief concern for consumers today. At the Levin Group, we see many practices struggling with lower-than-average patient satisfaction ...

by Glenn Christenson, Senior Researcher, Patient Satisfaction

The cost of dental care is a chief concern for consumers today. At the Levin Group, we see many practices struggling with lower-than-average patient satisfaction due to complaints about fees and payment options. No real surprise there. However, the surprising news is that for every practice with patients complaining about fees, there are offices with comparable (or higher) fees serving a similar patient base that receive few complaints about costs.

These practices have nearly eliminated complaints about fees by simply expanding their payment options and updating their case presentation systems.

Patients Feel Overextended Financially

Regrettably, debt levels for American households remain incredibly high. Here is a snapshot of the average U.S. household:

  • Annual income: $50,100
  • Mortgage debt: $148,818
  • Educational debt: $33,005
  • Credit card debt: $15,204

As a society, we have overcommitted ourselves financially, and many families have struggled to pay down debt since the recession. These trends really hurt dental practices because the first priority of patients is to buy groceries and pay their bills -- mortgage/rent, utilities, education loans, credit cards, and other debt. Patients are not frustrated by your fees, but rather by economic realities outside of your control. The best way to prevent patients from feeling overwhelmed by dental fees is to expand and explain your payment options.

Expanding and Explaining Your Payment Options

Most practices offer the four big payment options:

  1. Cash -- with a modest discount for larger cases, when paid in advance
  2. Credit cards
  3. Half now, half prior to completion
  4. Patient financing

For most dental offices, the issue isn't typically which payment options are available, but rather how well the staff presents these options to patients. Our patient satisfaction research shows that approximately two-thirds of patients don't consider patient financing because they are unaware that their dentists offer it. Every patient should be educated about all of your payment options.

Though many dental practices have outside patient financing as an option, few consistently tell patients that it is available except as a last resort. Some doctors are reluctant to give up a very small portion of the fee as part of the financing arrangement. This hesitance holds the practice back. The small percentage of the fee retained by the patient financing company is minuscule compared with increased case acceptance and patient satisfaction.

Outside patient financing improves patient satisfaction in two ways:

  1. Eases patient anxiety about fees. Financing prevents patients from being overwhelmed with worry about how to immediately pay for a significant dental bill and still handle their other monthly bills. This allows patients to focus on the immediate and long-term benefits of your treatment, be it elective or need based, for their small fee.
  2. Separates dental care from its cost in patients' minds. Patients who use outside financing will disassociate their payments from your practice. Instead, when patients think about great dental care and a fantastically friendly staff, your practice will come to mind. When they make their monthly payments, they will be thinking about the outside finance company.

Outside financing eliminates frustrations connected with your practice. Instead, your patients will focus on all of the wonderful care and service that you provide. This, in turn, leads to more highly satisfied patients. When looking for a patient financing company, be sure to check on the rates offered and whether the firm has any dental experience and endorsements.

Conclusion

Most patients don't assume financing options are available, and most offices don't do a good job of communicating financial information, which naturally leads to a situation where patients are easily frustrated by fees. However, if patients can follow their normal monthly pattern of spending and financing, many candidates for larger cases -- when made aware of all the practice's financial options -- will take advantage of treatment.

By offering effective financial options, you ensure improved patient satisfaction and give patients the opportunity to achieve the optimal oral health they deserve. When practices offer patients more financial options with a pronounced emphasis on outside patient financing, practices enjoy higher patient satisfaction, case acceptance, and profitability.

For nearly three decades, Dr. Roger P. Levin and Levin Group have shown thousands of dentists, specialists and their teams that measuring and improving patient satisfaction makes smart business sense. Patient Satisfaction Certification is the latest addition to the effective tools Levin Group offers dentists to help them achieve their goals. To learn more about patient satisfaction certification, visit the Levin Group Resource Center at www.levingroup.com/psc.

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