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Why can patients afford a $40,000 car, but not a life-changing new smile?

Jan. 1, 2021
It's frustrating for dentists to watch patients who "can't afford" dental treatment to spend a lot on a new car or other luxury. Why does this happen? Ron Rice offers some theories that begin with dentists being perceived as too expensive.

Being from Dearborn, Michigan, I have a lifelong interest in the automobile industry. Both of my parents and most of my family build cars for a living.

Comparing modern dentistry and the car business reminds me of a decision Detroit made many years ago that now faces health care, and especially dentistry. Most of the cars built in the early 1900s were large and expensive. Only a small percentage of Americans could even dream of driving a Packard, Duesenberg, or Cadillac.

It took two breakthroughs to launch the auto industry from a small cottage industry for the rich to having three of the largest companies in the world that served 95% of America by 1960. What were the breakthroughs? Henry Ford’s Model T1 and auto financing.2

Ford’s Model T was priced so that the average working family could afford a car. But even at the low price of $500, many buyers still needed the option of paying for their new mechanical wonder over a period of time. Ford created that option, and the company grew to be large and profitable.

Today, the auto industry was projected to sell more than 74 million new cars worldwide in 2020,3 and a majority of car purchases are financed. The average price of a new car sold in the US is $36,718.4 Forecasts have auto revenues over $9 trillion by 2030, with new vehicle sales representing 38% .5

Modern dentistry has made major advances during the past 10 years in restoring lost and damaged teeth. Patients’ lives have been forever changed by their smiles, with people going from unbearable to incredible teeth within a matter of hours.

Just like the automobile, today’s dentistry can profoundly change lives. Unfortunately, dentistry has followed the way of the early car business. Like the automobiles of the 1900s, much of today’s advancements in dental care are not affordable for the average patient. Just like the Packard and Duesenberg, only those patients with large bank accounts or executive-level health insurance plans can afford new smiles.

What can dentistry do?

Dentistry, and health care in general, must make the same moves the auto industry did 75 years ago to make these advancements affordable. Though financing is growing, there needs to be more acceptance by dentists who wish to grow their practices and serve more patients.

So, I ask, why do most patients have no problem purchasing a $40,000 car, but they walk away from a life-changing, new smile? The answer is the perception of affordability. The average car payment in America is $550 per month.6 Could the dental industry make implant technology available for $550 per month? With a qualified patient and a down payment, the answer is yes.

The value of anything begins with the presentation. The company presenting their product or service must show buyers the value of a positive decision and the affordability of that decision. If the company does not know the value or how to present their product effectively, the sale will be lost.

Today’s smile-changing technology can be easily shown to patients through pictures and videos. This visual evidence is powerful and allows the dental staff to convince patients in need of the value of the treatment plan.

Why are the closing rates for large cases in most dental offices so low? Most dental offices fail to address affordability. Regardless of what method, strategy, or combination of cash, insurance, or payment plan an office uses, the result of the strategy must be affordability. If patients do not see a clear way to pay for their treatment, how can they proceed?

Just like the Model T, when buyers first saw the car and were told they could own a car of their own, all they needed was a way to pay for it. Ford provided that way through financing. Too many qualified patients leave the dental office without the treatment they desperately need because the practice shows them value, need, and cost, but not affordability. 

Most people understand implant technology and may even know someone who has had the procedure. When they’re asked about the cost of implant treatment, the usual responses are “expensive” and “unaffordable.” Why are these responses so common? The answer is that this is what the dental industry portrays to the public.

In our need for acclamation, professionalism, and respect, the dental industry has created an aura of expensive around the idea of rebuilding smiles. To succeed, the dental office must replace the word expensive with affordable. Too many dentists associate affordable with cheap or second-class. This is a mistake.

Look at today’s ads for expensive cars—Mercedes, BMW, Range Rover, and Cadillac. Never is the total price of the car mentioned, just the cost per month. No one would say a Mercedes is cheap or second-class, yet someone can drive one for several hundred dollars per month. Why? Affordability.

Why can’t a qualified patient have a new, life-changing smile for just several hundred dollars per month with the rest due at closing? There is no one-size-fits-all program when it comes to dentistry. Unlike the car business, dentistry creates custom treatment plans for patients. The size, scope, and cost of treatment is different for everyone. Therefore, each payment plan should be different. 

Because every treatment plan is different, the dental team must develop an understanding of patient payment plans so that they are prepared to develop both a treatment plan and payment plan that meets the needs of the patient and the profitability of the practice.

There are several patient financing options available today. A combination of programs gives the dental office options to build a treatment and payment plan that fits the needs of each patient. A strong presentation of both treatment plan and patient affordability can make closing phenomenally successful.

Why offer the latest in dental technology if patients cannot afford it? Build your practice around affordability and your practice will grow, and more patients will be smiling because of it.  

References

1. Ford Model T. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Model_T
2. Morrissey D. The history of auto financing. 365 Days of Motoring. http://www.365daysofmotoring.com/blog/motoring/history-auto-financing/
3. Sandeep. 20 in-depth global and US auto sales statistics for 2020. Policy Advice. November 15, 2020. https://policyadvice.net/insurance/insights/us-auto-sales-statistics/
4. Hecht A. Car prices are increasing—here’s how that can hurt Americans. CNBC. October 22, 2019. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/22/car-prices-are-rapidly-increasing-heres-why-thats-bad-for-americans.html
5. Wager I. Global automotive auto industry revenue between 2017 and 2030. Statista. September 17, 2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/574151/global-automotive-industry-revenue/
6. Jones J. Average care payment | Loan statistics 2020. Lending Tree. January 8, 2020. https://www.lendingtree.com/auto/debt-statistics/

RON RICE is the president and founder of Patient Preferred Financial Services, which provides dental practices with patient payment plan programs to help make dentistry affordable. Rice can be reached at [email protected], or visit patientpreferredservices.com.

About the Author

Ron Rice

RON RICE is the president and founder of Patient Preferred Financial Services, which provides dental practices with patient payment plan programs to help make dentistry affordable. Rice can be reached at [email protected], or visit patientpreferredservices.com.

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