Let’s face it, dental procedures can be expensive. Many patients are left balking at the cost of dental care, even when it is much-needed. For the third of Americans without dental insurance, these numbers can be even more daunting.
Cost distress can manifest in different ways, such as patients delaying or skipping appointments, choosing less expensive treatment options, or forgoing treatment altogether. Concerns around cost have negative impacts on oral health and while financial discussions can feel awkward, they are a critical step in providing your patients with the treatment they need.
Effectively—and compassionately—screening dental patients for cost distress is the first stage in providing better patient care. Here are a few simple communication steps.
1. Start the conversation early
Financial discussions should start early, so there aren’t big surprises down the road. If a patient has an idea of what their financial responsibility will be upfront, you can begin suggesting solutions before they ever see an estimate of what treatment will cost. This discussion can start before the patient enters your office by posting information on fees, coverage options, and alternative ways to pay to your website, so patients get a chance to review their options ahead of time.
When the patient does come in for treatment, it is important to make the most of their intake process by providing them with easy-to-understand fact sheets about coverage and financing. This is an opportunity to discuss payment options or alternative coverage solutions that your practice offers. By presenting the patient with these options before they get in the chair, you’re already starting to nurture the relationship and gain their trust.
2. Use empathetic language
Empathy is the key to any financial discussion. Patients feel exposed when the cost of care is not transparent or easy to understand and as a result, forgo treatment completely. As a dentist and healthcare worker it is your fiduciary duty to offer care and treatment recommendations that are in the best interest of your patients — so let them know this. Becoming a trusted advocate for your patients is an invaluable asset that will help your practice build loyalty, reputation, and revenue.
When discussing financial options with patients, use language that conveys understanding. Avoid using words like “expensive” or “costly” when discussing a treatment plan — replace such terms with phrases like “a significant investment in your health.” Let patients know that you understand the financial commitment they are making and that you want to help them make the best decision. Through this, you can position your practice as a partner in their health, not just another service provider.
3. Provide clear transparent fees
Insurance, pricing, payment plans and collections can be confusing to practitioners, so it goes without saying that it can be even more confusing to patients. While patients think they may have a ballpark understanding of cost, the price of dental care is consistently overestimated by two to four times what it actually is. As a result, many patients — even those with insurance or quality dental coverage — think care may be out of reach.
Being upfront about fees takes the guesswork out of the patient’s budget, regardless of their financial status. Start open conversations about fees when the patient is in for routine care, so that they are comfortable with your pricing and payment policies. The dentist or the practice’s financial coordinator should be able to give patients clear numbers about predicted cost, and not be vague about the specifics.
An easy way to set a framework for clear pricing is through an in-house dental membership plan. Membership plans give patients access to important preventive care and treatment savings. Paying a set monthly or annual fee directly to your practice allows patients to appreciate the ease of payment, consistent pricing, and fee transparency.
Whatever the solution, the bottom line is that being open and compassionate about financial barriers to oral health is critical in providing quality patient care. When you invest in your patients beyond the chair, their investment in your practice — and their own oral health — will grow in a way that benefits everyone.
If you’re looking for a solution to help you ease into tougher cost and treatment conversations, Kleer can help, click here to learn more about building a coverage solution fit for your practice and patients.