Dentists who want to grow their businesses and increase the value of their practices are frustrated by a model that seems to be stacked against them. In fact, many dentists are struggling to make a profit because costs to operate a dental practice have increased while fees paid to dentists by insurance companies have decreased.
The American Dental Association revealed the results of this quite clearly when it reported that the average earnings for dentists in 2016 were at much the same levels as they were in 1997.1 Meanwhile, the overall dental market grew 70% from 1990 to 2015. It’s not going to get any better. As Morgan Stanley Research reported in their May 2018 report titled Trends + 5 key forces reshaping the US dental market, dental reimbursement rates across all dentistry were projected to decrease 3.3% in 2018. This is on top of a 2.9% decrease in 2017.2
Many of today’s dentists feel under siege. Insurance companies, DSOs, and suppliers all chip away at the ever-shrinking profit margins of practices. Dentists are desperate and trying anything and everything to attract new patients. Many practices have implemented marketing programs in an effort to find new patients, but these efforts typically fail. When they do result in new patients, this usually comes at a steep cost.
The good news is there are solutions, and a key solution is hiding right in your existing patient base—your uninsured patients. Estimated at 74 million strong in 2016 by the National Association of Dental Plans,3 uninsured patients can make up 30% or more of a dentist’s practice, but a majority don’t visit the practice on a regular basis. These patients do not necessarily go to other dentists for care, they just avoid dental care altogether.
The other part of the solution is to design and launch your own membership plan. In example after example, membership plans have proven to be a great alternative for uninsured patients who are paying out-of-pocket for dental care. These patients have been frustrated by the complexity and costs of dental care for too long. They want simple, affordable coverage that enables them to have great oral health without the hassles of traditional insurance.
Here I’ll tell you why uninsured patients avoid visiting the dentist and how to reconnect with them by offering a membership plan.
Why uninsured consumers avoid the dentist
Fear of cost is the number one reason uninsured patients avoid the dentist. A trip to the dentist can be stressful for anyone, but for uninsured patients it can be exceptionally so. They have no good way of determining what they should pay and, as a result, feel totally exposed.
In fact, most patients overestimate the price of dental care by a factor of two to four times actual cost. In focus groups our company conducted, we asked patients the costs of procedures such as cleanings and fillings. The responses ranged from $150 to $1,000.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions are common and keep more than 50% of uninsured patients away from dentists’ offices each year. They visit once every two years on average. Yes, these are worrisome numbers, but for dentists who are looking for ways to grow their practices, this actually presents a huge opportunity for growth.4
Now the good news
Despite these statistics, uninsured patients understand the importance of good oral health. In our focus groups, 84% said they believe oral health improves overall health and 75% said they believe good oral health improves their quality of life. Even better, 60% said they realize good oral health will help them live longer lives.4
In addition, many uninsured patients have a relationship with their dentists, so the opportunity is right there in front of dental practices. It is much more cost-efficient to reactivate existing patients than it is to acquire new patients, especially when your practice can offer them something of value. That offer is a membership plan.
Membership plans are a great way to reengage uninsured patients, especially older people who lose dental benefits when they retire and those who work for small employers that don’t offer dental benefits. Best of all, these patients have shown to be more profitable than cash-paying patients and those covered by traditional dental insurance.
Consumers need some level of certainty in order to seek and accept the dental services they need. They want to know what it will cost and that they’re receiving a good value for their money. Membership plans provide that certainty. People know exactly what they’re paying and exactly what they’re getting. This is how you can reengage uninsured patients and reactivate dormant patients.
Not only will people return to your practice, but they will come in more regularly and accept more treatment. Patients with membership plans visit the dentist up to three times as often as uninsured patients without a plan. Even better for both patients and dentists, membership plan patients accept additional treatment recommended by their dentists 55% more often than those without a plan.5 Membership plans provide a faster path to profit for dentists. With a cloud-based platform such as Kleer, subscription and treatment payments are made directly to the dentist, not a third-party middleman.
The best membership plan platforms give control to the practice. No third party dictates the fees or treatment protocol. The practice determines the subscription fee, treatment protocol, which procedures to offer with discounts, and the level of these discounts. This control enables the practice to build organically with a known patient base that actually wants simple and affordable coverage.
By offering a membership plan, you will notice more success growing your business from your existing patients than by acquiring new ones. Marketing costs are far lower and conversion rates are much higher with patients who know you. You’ll have something of real value to offer these patients, which will bring them back and keep them returning.
1. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute, State of the US Dental Market: Outlook 2018. https://www.ada.org/en/science-research/health-policy-institute/publications/webinars/state-of-the-us-dental-care-market-outlook-2018. Published November 2017.
2. Beuchaw S, Wachter Z, Rosenberg J. Trends + 5 Key Forces Reshaping the U.S. Dental Market. Morgan Stanley website. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIwebinar05222018.pdf?la=en. Published May 21, 2018.
3. Who has dental benefits today? National Association of Dental Plans website. https://www.nadp.org/dental_benefits_basics/dental_bb_1.aspx.
4. Dental Market Insights Report, October 2018. Internal research conducted by Finch Brands.
5. Dental Practice Case Studies for two dentist practices in the US Mid-Atlantic Metro. Internal research conducted by Kleer.