By Lois Banta
Many appointments are canceled on short notice because the patient lacks the money for the needed dental treatment. It’s long been said that money is one of the main barriers for patients in saying yes to dental treatment. The rich don’t get richer by spending all their money, while other people are always looking for ways to budget their expenses. Also, for years conversations regarding money and dental treatment have prevented countless patients from moving forward with their decisions, much to their detriment.
Creative financing has been defined in many ways over the years. Many dental practices have become the “bank” for their patients, financing their dental treatment “in-house.” Accounts receivables should never be more than one times production. Translated, it should never take a dental practice more than one month to collect what is on their books. Effective collection and financial systems will help alleviate the accounts receivables nightmare that afflicts many dental practices. In addition, dental patients with paid dentistry never complain about their bill, fail their appointments, or misunderstand their dental treatment.
This is the “information age,” and informed patients make good decisions about their dental health. A well-trained dental team is an essential part of the process in patients understanding the fees and financial guidelines of the dental office. Having the confidence to present and collect fees is as important as having the patient accept dental treatment. As I mentioned before, patients resist dental treatment when they feel they can’t afford it. By removing these obstacles, patients have the opportunity to make informed and healthy decisions. Written financial guidelines and well-rehearsed verbal skills are critical when presenting treatment plans from the clinical department to the administrative department. Patients need to feel in control of the process. Therefore, it is important to outline acceptable options for the patient and dental practice. It is advisable to have more than one financial option; i.e., cash, check, bankcard, or outside financing option. One advantage in offering several payment options is that it allows for flexibility. When flexible financial arrangements are offered, patients have the tools available to say yes to their needed dentistry. Therefore, when you include outside financing in your payment options, magic ensues!
There are effective ways to engage patients in conversation about their financial responsibility. Be a good listener. Instead of asking if they have any questions about the financial arrangements, ask, “What questions can we answer about the financial arrangements we just discussed?” What you say and how you say it makes all the difference.
All dental team members play a crucial role in “paid-for dentistry.” The dentist is the true leader in the practice, and he or she must lead by example and back up the financial guidelines in the practice. A good way to achieve this is with cross-training. The clinical team tends to be the patient confidant. Patients ask tough questions of clinical teams that can put them in a tough spot. Unless they are prepared with answers to those financial questions, they can lose patients’ trust and confidence. The key is to know when to use the expert in the office to assist patients in making informed decisions. The scheduling coordinator must not only be the wizard with the schedule, but must also be knowledgeable about the financial options. The financial administrator is the one who can ultimately assist patients in affording their needed dentistry. They are the wizards with financial arrangements and must be sensitive to the budget needs of their patients. All dental team members have the opportunity to help patients make informed decisions.
Truth in lending and disclaimers are an important part of your financial guidelines. You must inform patients in writing about what fees and finance charges they will incur when financing their dental treatment. Also, written disclaimers such as patient financial responsibility for payment protect the practice in court.
In the unfortunate event that a patient does not pay his or her balance, collection systems need to be in place. “The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act” is a written federal report on what you can and can’t say in a collection conversation with patients. Most states follow the federal guidelines. To review what your state follows in collection guidelines, log on to www.lawdog.com. Once you have exhausted all efforts to secure payment from your patient, a final notice must be sent. Make sure patients have a clear understanding of their balance due when a final notice is sent. The law states that you can only send one final notice. Multiple final notices are considered harassment and patients may have legal recourse resulting in not having to pay their past due balance. It is helpful to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so patients have the best opportunity for success. The next time you are faced with challenging situations, make a plan, write it down, and practice, practice, practice!
From terrified dental patient to popular international speaker and dental consultant, Lois Banta has been involved in dentistry for more than 30 years. Her extraordinary insights into the components that make a practice successful allow her to deliver her message with enthusiasm and heartfelt conviction. Beginning as a dental receptionist and quickly working her way up the administrative ladder, Lois discovered secrets that help practices flourish. You can contact her at [email protected].
By Lois Banta