By Amy Morgan for CareCredit

The financial conversation is one of the most important dialogues that happen in the dental practice. Yet so many dental team members are uncomfortable discussing fees and payment options with patients, which can impact treatment acceptance.

Many dentists and teams have shared that they don’t like discussing cost and payment options because they feel patients will perceive them as a “used car salesman.” Others have said they’re uncomfortable with the fees because they themselves could not afford the dentistry the doctor was recommending to the patient.

When the team’s reluctance to discuss fees and payment options is combined with patient perception that dental insurance should cover all needed care, the result is often an awkward financial discussion that benefits neither the practice nor the patient.

Patient Understanding

It’s been said before, but it’s important enough to repeat: people buy what they value. And if patients don’t understand the value of the dentistry, objecting to cost is the easy way out. Often, it’s not the cost they’re objecting to at all. Their concerns are much deeper and broader.

To effectively communicate the value of care, the dentist and team should:

  • Invite the patient along the discovery journey and enable them to co-diagnose and own their oral health issues.
  • Discuss these issues and treatment recommendations human-to-human, not clinician-to-patient.
  • Ask questions to confirm patients clearly understand the care being recommended and the consequences of delaying or declining treatment.

If these steps are part of the patient experience, patients are more likely to value the dentistry. All that’s left is for the team to embrace the role of healthcare advocate, and to understand it’s their privilege and obligation to help patients get the care they need and want.

Great Financial Conversations Are a Team Effort

Everybody on the team needs to be comfortable with what the practice charges for care, and believe that the fees represent the practice’s vision, value, quality of care, service and results. The team needs to have clarity and understanding of the practice’s overhead costs. When they understand what it takes to keep the doors open, they will be more comfortable with the fees and charges. And, of course, every team member needs to be proud of what he or she does, know he or she is making a difference in patients’ lives, and that patients value his or her services.

When it comes to talking money, I believe doctors should be able to look patients in the eye and quote an approximate fee for the care they are recommending. If they cannot or will not, patients may perceive a “hidden agenda.” The best results happen when doctors present treatment from a patient benefit point of view.

Mrs. Jones, because you said you wanted to keep your teeth for life, our assessment today shows in order to do so, you need X, Y and Z treatment. I’m recommending we go ahead with this very important treatment plan, which will cost approximately $5,000.

The doctor can do a quality baton pass to the financial coordinator, who has been trained in the fine art of financial negotiations to help the patient find a payment solution that works for their specific situation.

Mrs. Jones, Mary is our financial coordinator. We are so proud of her. She is just wonderful working with patients to come up with the easiest and best financial option so we never have to compromise your clinical care.

Mary, this is Mrs. Jones. She understands that in order to meet her oral health goals, we’re recommending this treatment. She has shared with me that she has concerns about how much insurance will cover and wants to make the financial agreement as stress free as possible. She knows you have many options to work with.

Mrs. Jones, I leave you in good hands and I will see you at your first appointment to get you going on this very important treatment.

Great Financial Conversations Are Win-Win

Financial negotiations should always come from a win-win perspective. The financial coordinator’s job is to find a financial solution where both parties win: the patient gets the care he or she needs, and the practice has scheduled treatment. I teach teams to confirm cost and insurance contribution, and then allow the patient to provide input and direction on the most ideal financial situation.

Mrs. Jones, as the doctor mentioned, the cost of care is $5,000. Your insurance benefits should contribute $1,000, leaving your out-of- pocket investment at $4,000. How would you like to take care of that today?

The best scenario is the patient is willing and able to pay in full at time of service. However, for many patients, treatment with a high out-of-pocket cost may eliminate this as a viable payment option. The next alternative, to introduce third party financing, still enables the practice to collect the fee at time of treatment. Many patients may prefer to pay over time, especially if the third-party financing option offers convenient monthly payments.

Ultimately, patients may be more likely to commit to treatment if:

  • They like you.
  • They have a clear understanding and are committed to care.
  • You make it financially comfortable with as many options as possible.

Great financial conversations happen when the team has prepared and focuses on patient relationships and is knowledgeable about the cost of care and the fees they charge. Dentistry is a service and an act of caring.

Amy Morgan, CEO of Pride Institute, is a popular speaker, headlining national meetings including the American Dental Association, AGD, Yankee Dental Society and the National Dental Association as well as local and state societies. Published in Dental Economics and other dental magazines, Ms. Morgan applies her educational and hands-on expertise to bring cutting-edge business solutions to practices.

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