Patient financing programs have been available to dentists and their patients for more than 30 years, and today the majority of dentists accept a payment option that includes promotional financing in addition to cash, checks and general-purpose credit cards.
Many dentists believe that having patient financing available helps patients accept treatment recommendations they otherwise may have put off, or requested a minimal-care alternative for. Also, many doctors find that patient financing helps improve retention by shifting the patient’s financial relationship from the practice to a financing partner, which makes patients more likely to return for hygiene appointments and ongoing care even if they have outstanding balances.
One of the most important keys to successfully using patient financing is to let patients know about the opportunity to pay monthly early on, before they might choose to decline or delay care because of fee concerns. If you wait until they voice their financial concerns, it may be too late—they may have already decided the dentistry is “too expensive,” and will leave the practice without committing to care. Or you may find they never voice their cost concerns; instead, they tell you, “I’ll think about it,” or “Let me discuss it with my spouse,” and again, leave the practice without committing to care.
Patients don’t like surprises
The cost of care and available payment options should never be a surprise to patients. Throughout the entire patient experience—even during the initial new-patient call—they should be made aware of the practice’s insurance protocol and the patients’ payment responsibilities and options.
Example: “Mrs. Smith, thank you for asking about our insurance policy. The good news is, we do accept your insurance benefits. We also have some flexible payment options, should needed treatment require an out-of-pocket investment.”
Some dental teams have found that the best way to communicate patients’ payment options and responsibilities is by having a written financial protocol or policy. Here are a few other ways to let patients know about patient financing:
Introduce all payment options to patients in a New Patient Welcome Kit. Add patient financing information to your website and, if possible, include a link to the patient credit application.
Display patient financing information thoughtfully throughout your practice. No one likes clutter, but the information should be easily accessible by patients, especially in areas where financial conversations usually take place.
Mention the availability of promotional financing options with monthly payments in your patient communications, including continuing care letters, e-newsletters and treatment promotions, and on your social media sites.
Many doctors find that patient financing helps improve retention by shifting the patient’s financial relationship from the practice to a financing partner, which makes patients more likely to return for hygiene appointments and ongoing care even if they have outstanding balances.
Discussing patient financing
In the real world, many people may be uncomfortable discussing money—and that could include some dental team members. To make financial conversations easier, it’s important to commit to team training. A great financial conversation doesn’t just happen; it takes time and practice. Ask your practice management coach or patient financing partner for any team training tools they may have available, such as scripts and role-playing exercises. Even if you have a financial coordinator, who most likely will be having most of these conversations, the entire team should be able to discuss payment options with patients the same way, so patients hear a consistent message. Set training times and make it a priority for all team members.
For example, at the morning huddle, the team could be given a frequently asked patient question, then challenged to provide their own answers. The team can then choose the answer or a combination of answers they believe best communicates payment options to patients. Role-play and listen to each other as you present fees and payment options. Work together as a team to continually enhance this critical conversation.
Some of the most effective ways doctors and their teams have found to present fees and payment options are:
- Present the treatment fee to patients both as a total fee and as a monthly investment.
- Present patient financing with a positive attitude, knowing you’re providing an appreciated service that can help enable more patients to improve and maintain their oral health.
- To enhance understanding, use visual aids such as payment charts, patient brochures and a payment calculator.
Reading their comprehension
Ultimately, it’s important that your patients thoroughly understand their payment options and what they’re committing to financially. When presenting fees, your patient must be alert and focused and outside the clinical environment. (Of course, you wouldn’t want to present critical information or ask for a clinical or financial decision when a patient is under stress or anesthesia.)
It’s useful to have a patient Payment Agreement Form that details the payment preferences of the patient, including how and when the fees will be paid. Go over the form in detail with patients, explaining how patient financing works and what they can expect. Keep a copy of the form and the signed transaction slip—including loan details, if applicable—in their file should questions arise in the future.
Remember to take the time to answer questions and check for clarity.
“Mrs. Jones, to make sure I’ve explained myself clearly about the terms of the financial agreement, we have this Payment Agreement Form that details your payment responsibility. Let’s go over this form together. If you have any questions at any time, just let me know.” The success of patient financing within your practice will, again, take a team effort. In most practices, the team has the most interaction with the patient and are the ones communicating fees and payment solutions.
As you begin integrating patient financing, you’ll be able to see the impact it has on production, case acceptance and even failed appointments by monitoring these practice “vital signs” in your practice management software. These are great numbers to go over in your team meetings.
Giving people options and flexibility is always a best practice, especially when it comes to time and paying for care. It’s never good to assume you know what your patients want and need. Instead, the best practice is to offer all options and ask which they prefer. Remember, you can’t judge a patient’s payment preference by they way he looks or how she’s paid for treatment in the past. Patients’ situations may change, but the dental team’s goal remains constant: to help patients get the care they need and want, without stressing them financially. Making patient financing a part of your processes and systems can help you meet this goal and help more patients get and stay healthy.