Practices that understand and embrace the relationship aspect of their work with their patient family are going to have the greatest impact on their patients and themselves. When you partner with patients and help them feel safe, heard, understood and part of the process, you can ultimately help them make decisions in the best interests of their long-term oral health.
One opportunity to establish a strong patient-practice partnership is during the financial conversation. Here are five tips that will help you have win-win, partnership-driven financial dialogues.
1. Be Prepared.
Every time you have a financial conversation where the objective is to agree to financial arrangements that are good for the patient and the practice, you should be prepared with all the information you need to take that conversation all the way to the end.
Be prepared with:
- Knowledge of the patient from information previously notated in his or her file.
- Understanding of the treatment recommended—the benefits and the consequences of declining or delaying care. If the conversation has to be interrupted because the financial coordinator can’t answer clinical questions, the patient may shut down.
- All the information the patient will need to make good financial decisions, including how much his or her insurance will contribute to the cost of recommended care. Be aware if the patient indicated any other financial priorities; such as, an upcoming vacation, wedding, or new car.
2. Be Thoughtful.
Be thoughtful with your communication. For example, when you understand that people learn differently, you can thoughtfully develop a financial conversation that includes visual, auditory and kinesthetic elements.
Be thoughtful about where the financial conversation should happen in the practice. It’s beneficial to have a dedicated space or consultation room for more extensive conversations.
And be thoughtful about helping patients understand their insurance benefits and how they contribute to the cost of care; as well as your payment options and how and when they’re shared with patients.
3. Ask & Listen. Don’t Just Hear.
Excellent communication is a clear message sent and received.
To make this happen, you and your team have to become better and active listeners, and communicate confirmation that you and your team clearly understand what the patient is saying—not just that you hear him or her.
For example, when a patient says, “Wow, I didn’t expect it to be so expensive,” you don’t truly know what he or she means by expensive. You’d probably assume that the cost is too high for the patient.
Instead, ask for clarity. “Mrs. Jones, can you share what you mean by expensive?”
Mrs. Jones might have other financial responsibilities and may respond, “Well, my daughter is starting college next month and I just didn’t budget for this dentistry.” By asking for clarity, you’ uncover her concern is not the total cost, but fitting care into her budget.
4. Ask For Permission.
A key element of creating a patient-practice partnership is asking patients for their permission to proceed to the next step throughout the entire journey.
When you do this, you reaffirm they’re in control, it’s their choice whether to accept treatment or not, and patients don’t feel forced into a conversation or treatment.
This starts at the front desk—“Mrs. Jones, may I escort you back to the operatory?”—and continues through the treatment diagnosis and financial arrangements conversation. “Mrs. Jones, may I show you what I’m seeing in your mouth?” “Mrs. Jones, I’d like your permission to present what I believe would be the best treatment possible. Is that all right?” “Mrs. Jones, your insurance contributes $800 towards the cost of your care. That leaves $750 as your out-of-pocket investment. I’d like to share the payment options available to help make treatment fit comfortably into your lifestyle. Is that all right with you?”
5. Uncover Barriers.
There are many barriers to accepting treatment. Hopefully along your patients’ journeys, they’ve shared their concerns, fears or other things that may affect willingness or ability to accept care.
During the financial conversation, asking a simple question—“Mrs. Jones, is there anything that would prevent you from moving forward with the treatment that doctor has recommended?”—can help uncover unspoken barriers.
Again, ask and listen. Give the patient time to answer. Then use active listening skills to make sure you have clarity. (“Well, yes. We have a cruise coming up…” “That’s exciting, Mrs. Jones. Will you share with me how you believe the cruise would stop you from getting the treatment?”)
Remember, patient-practice financial conversations help build trust and loyalty, because patients know they’re heard, part of the decision, in control, and that their concerns are valid. When you’re prepared and thoughtful, and listen and ask permission to help patients overcome obstacles and get healthy, treatment acceptance is a natural outcome.
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