Dr. Jeff Dalin interviews Bete Johnson of Care Credit®

Johnson discusses some ideas and practical tools that can help dentists solve key practice issues.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD

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Have you ever wondered what your colleagues were doing to solve their key practice issues? This month, Dr. Jeff Dalin talks with Bete Johnson, director of business development at CareCredit. On a daily basis, Bete connects with dentists, practice-management consultants, and other experts while she monitors the trends and challenges that dental teams face. Johnson captures what she calls great ideas and practical tools that help solve practices' key issues.
Dr. Dalin: Bete, we have had two years of an unsettling economy. Has this brought about a new set of challenges for dental teams?

Johnson: Yes and no. Twenty years ago, as a practice administrator, my key issues were attracting new patients, filling the schedule, and making sure patients returned to the practice for recare. These are the same challenges today's practices face. But due to the economy, a new dynamic has appeared. I call it "financial hesitancy." This financial hesitancy affects patients and the dental team. Let me explain.

Typically, people are uncomfortable discussing money and financial matters. This includes the dental team. That's really nothing new. What is new is that the office manager's discomfort surrounding talk about money has been magnified by his or her personal experiences and the media. The dental profession is very caring and empathetic, and when you combine that with the economic messages of caution and fear that are pervasive, it can create hesitancy. Add to that the office manager's experience, either personally or with friends and family who have been impacted by job loss or the housing crisis.

All of this information influences the dental team's perception of money, which in turn impacts their comfort level in promoting what the practice has to offer. This is especially apparent when discussing elective procedures, and treatment that they may personally perceive as "expensive." The same media and personal influences are affecting patients. Even if they have not seen a change in their employment or been personally impacted by the economy, patients may be hesitant to tap into savings for dentistry. They may also have had their insurance coverage and/or credit lines reduced and want to reserve their remaining credit for other household expenses. That's why we are hearing more and more patients request minimal care - just enough to get them by "for now."

Dr. Dalin: Well, it looks like the economy is in no hurry to improve dramatically. Can the dental team do anything to address this financial hesitancy or will it just naturally improve as the economy improves?

Johnson: I don't think we can wait for a magical economic recovery, and I don't think patients can wait to get the dental care they need. To change the team's financial perspective, team members first must be thoroughly convinced that the dental services the doctor recommends are exactly what a patient needs. The good news is that dental teams have a powerful story to tell. The medical community is starting to recognize the connection between oral health and the body's overall health. This includes the health of the heart, lungs, liver, and other vital organs.

Dental teams need to optimize the message by continuing to educate patients about the importance of their oral care. The team must also thoroughly understand that the economy has changed the financial conversation, and that the practice is not only in the business of providing clinical solutions but also presenting financial options in the form of low monthly payments.

Patients need the care. So, the dental team's job is to help make that happen. How can they do this? By offering patients a range of payment options to choose from. Today, more than ever, patient financing is a necessity - a tool that enables patients to get the care they need now instead of delaying or compromising treatment. Offering payment options can not only increase a patient's ability to accept care, but also helps the practice with the other key issues such as attracting new patients and increasing patient retention, recall, and referrals.

Dr. Dalin: How can CareCredit help with these other practice- management challenges?

Johnson: CareCredit is committed to supporting practices to help more patients. We offer a variety of practical tools. These include:

  1. A free, customized financial policy. The template was developed from the best practices of leading dental consultants. Practices who offer CareCredit can go to our Web site or work with their practice development manager to answer a few simple questions. Their input is used to generate a custom-written financial policy, which provides patients more clarity and less confusion about the practice's expectations regarding a patient's payment responsibilities. This can enhance case acceptance, patient satisfaction, and retention.
  2. A free patient referral kit. This kit contains tools that proactively encourage referrals. Included are office displays, scripts, and even patient thank-you cards.
  3. An online doctor locator. Currently, we have seven million active cardholders who we consistently communicate with and encourage to use their available lines of credit for oral health needs. Every month about 400,000 patients use our online doctor locator to find practices in their communities that offer our program. This is just one of the ways we help practices attract new patients.
I also would like to mention that we are not alone. Many practice-management consultants have watched dental teams struggle, and have made their knowledge extremely easy to access. Many of these resources are free, turnkey solutions. In fact, with all the online resources available, doctors and teams have an amazing amount of information and training for the taking. Practices can be active participants in their own economic recovery, moving from emotional and financial hesitancy to providing financial solutions that enable more patients to move forward with recommended treatment.
Bete Johnson is the director of business development for CareCredit, the nation's leading patient financing program. She joined CareCredit in 2001, and has spent more than 19 years in sales, marketing, and practice management in the dental field. Johnson works with many consultants, professional organizations, and educational institutions across the United States. Reach her at BJohnson@CareCredit.com.

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He is a cofounder of the Give Kids A Smile program. Contact Dr. Dalin at jeff@dfdasmiles.com.

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