Here's some good news for dentists: patients "get it" when it comes to oral care. In 2018, Kleer conducted consumer research-including a national survey, a series of focus groups, and one-on-one discussions-through which we discovered that most people understand and value oral healthcare. The data from the respondents revealed that 84% believe that their oral health is linked to their overall health, 75% believe that a healthy mouth leads to a better quality of life, and 60% believe that good oral health will help them live longer.
Unfortunately, most patients don't visit the dentist regularly and many who do aren't accepting their dentist's recommended treatment. In fact, according to the American Dental Association and Dental Economics, 58% of consumers don't visit the dentist annually and only 23% accept recommended treatment. The disconnect between patient treatment needs and acceptance isn't a misunderstanding of the importance of oral care-it's about access.
The antiquated and insurer-controlled dental system makes it difficult for patients to access the care that they need and for dentists to provide that care. Insurers control everything, including the terms, treatment, pricing, and payment. They have created overly complicated and expensive plans that largely benefit themselves, not patients or dentists.
In our research, patients said that they felt like insurance companies were "out to get them." The exclusions, small print, waiting periods, and annual limits made them feel like the system was rigged. Some of the insured patients were confused about the coverage they had and also had difficulty explaining basic insurance concepts such as deductibles. Many of the uninsured patients felt backed into a corner, where they were expected to choose between going without coverage or purchasing a dental plan that was opaque, expensive, and difficult to understand.
Our research explored the behaviors and needs of uninsured patients to see if we could uncover the reasons why they weren't getting the care that they needed and to see if we could help improve their access to care. Many of the findings were eye opening, including the following:
• When compared with uninsured patients who visited the dentist an average of once every two years, insured patients visited the dentist an average of 1.5 times per year, which means that uninsured patients visit the dentist 3 times less often than insured patients.
• Uninsured patients accepted treatment recommendations at half the rate that insured patients did.
• When asked why they don't visit the dentist more often, 75% of uninsured patients cited a lack of coverage as the reason.
• Of the uninsured patients, 89% indicated interest in a dental care plan that is simple, affordable, and transparent.
As you can see, uninsured patients aren't getting the care that they need, they know it, and they would commit to receiving more care if they had access to a simple, affordable, and transparent care plan.
These uninsured patients represent the most efficient, lowest cost opportunity to build your practice. They already know your practice, brand, and staff. You have already paid to acquire them and spent time building a relationship. As existing patients, they require none of the marketing or acquisition costs that are associated with targeting new patients and convincing them to come to your practice. You just need to provide them with a comprehensive dental care plan that they can afford.
Membership Plans Offer an Opportunity
Membership plans enable dentists to reclaim control of the dental marketplace from insurers and offer easy-to-understand, personalized coverage directly to patients at a price they can afford. In a dental membership plan, patients pay a monthly or annual subscription to their dentist in return for preventive care and discounts on other treatment. Dentists set their own fees, design their own treatment plans, and eliminate the constraints and hassles of the insurance middlemen. Patients get the care that they need on terms that work for both them and the dental practice.
With a dental membership plan in place, a practice makes it easier for patients to do business with them. Prices are transparent, coverage is uncomplicated, and there are no benefit caps or treatment delays. As a result, patients become more loyal, visit more often, and accept more treatment. In fact, according to our research, they visit 2 to 3 times more often and accept 50% to 75% more treatment.
Ten Best Practices
A membership plan is a great step toward providing better access to care and improving practice performance, but how can your practice get started? Some of the best practices that Kleer has discovered from working with thousands of dental practices to implement successful membership plans include the following:
• Provide comprehensive treatment. This should include preventive care (eg, usually two cleanings, two exams, and routine radiography each year) and discounts on additional treatment.
• Provide transparent pricing. Sharing pricing builds patient trust.
• Make it simple to join. It should be easy for patients to sign up from any device.
• Make it immediate. Benefits should start the day that a patient signs up.
• Make it hassle-free. There should be no sign-up fees, deductibles, waiting periods, annual maximums, or preapprovals.
• Assign a plan coordinator. Assign one person in your office to manage and track the plan.
• Get your team on board. Each member of your team, including the doctors, should understand and promote the benefits of a membership plan to your patients.
• Set goals and track progress. You can start small and then build; a typical goal for many practices that are just starting out is to sign up 25% of the uninsured patients that they see each week.
• Promote it. Promote the plan in your office, on your web site, and through social media.
• Ensure it is compliant. Dental plans must adhere to multiple regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), consumer protection laws, and various state laws.
In addition, consider whether you will offer monthly or yearly payment plans or both. This decision will be dependent, in large part, on your patient demographics. Many patients 55 years of age and older prefer a yearly plan; subscription-based services are a newer phenomenon in their lives, and they have the disposable income to pay up front. Conversely, younger patients tend to prefer monthly plans because they are used to subscription-based services and appreciate the option of spreading out payments.
About the Author
Dave Monahan is the chief executive officer of Kleer.