As Heard on the Radio
On a recent drive to another city, I was listening to a call-in radio program featuring questions and concerns about money. The caller was describing her visit with what she described as a “coupon dentist”. She explained that she already had a dentist she liked, however the coupon was good for a “cleaning” and exam and she knew she was due to have her teeth cleaned. She described the coupon as being $39 for both the cleaning and exam.
She was satisfied with her cleaning, but said that when she saw the dentist he insisted she have x-rays taken (and charged her $150 for these) and then he identified four teeth that needed fillings. He said it would be $700 for the fillings. The radio host expressed shock at this price and then asked her what happened next. She told him that she declined the fillings and then went back to her regular dentist for his opinion. Her regular dentist told her that she had no need for any restorations.
The caller wanted to know what she should do about this “fraudulent” dentist. The host told her she should call the State Board of Dental Examiners and report him, as well as calling the State Insurance Commissioner. He said that “crooked dentists should be stopped” and this would be the way to do it. He also suggested that she go on social media and write a poor review so others would be alerted.
So many matters are highlighted by this conversation.
The caller bypassed her regular dentist to get a “bargain”. She fully intended to take advantage of the cheaper fee, even though she liked her current dental office. When faced with what she perceived as a high fee for dental treatment that she didn’t think she needed, she sought out her regular dentist for his opinion. She obviously trusted her regular dentist, even though she went elsewhere to save money. This shows two things: A patient will leave a trusted dentist to save money, and a patient will come back to a trusted dentist if there is uncertainty about what the new dentist advises.
Coupon fees may attract a patient temporarily. However, many patients who take advantage of a one-time offer may return to a regular dentist after using the discounted service. Discounts are not a consistent way to attract new patients.
The general public has no understanding of the cost of dental treatment, or how it is determined. The fee quoted to the patient in our discussion would have amounted to less than $200 per tooth. This is not unusual, and even inexpensive, depending on how many surfaces were involved. Patients do not understand the idea of surfaces unless it is explained in detail. They think that a “filling is a filling”.
In general, people think that dental treatment costs too much, regardless of what is charged. While the patient making the call thought that $39 was a bargain for a cleaning and exam, her reaction to the fee for proposed dentistry was shock. The radio host also was shocked. How many people are shocked by the cost of new tires, clothing, window cleaning, or a tank of gasoline? All of these things can be quite expensive, but people are accustomed to these costs, even though they may complain about them. Dental treatment is not understood in the same way other expenses are perceived. This may be because people are not faced with dental treatment on a daily basis, or because they understand dental “fillings” or “crowns” as products, rather than custom designed restorations. This is one reason that fears of raising fees may be overblown by dentists. Your patients probably already think your fees are high - a dollar or two higher will not affect this perception.
Patients will respond to a discount offer, but may secretly believe that there is something “less than honest” about the proposition. The radio host suggested turning the dentist in to “authorities” as an immediate reaction, rather than some other less drastic action, such as peer review or simply talking to the dentist to get clarification on the fees. Mistrust of the dentist in this example was very high, perhaps amplified by the perception that the dentist was a “coupon” dentist.
A poor review can be very harmful to a practice because social media is such a part of our daily lives. The radio host suggested leaving a poor review concerning the “coupon” dentist. Be sure that you are monitoring social websites so you can respond to any poor entries that might be left about you.
Your patients are susceptible to various offers and enticements, but this does not mean they are going to leave you for good. Using discounts to attract new patients does not always result in turning those people into patients of record of the practice. More important is your patient’s trust, and that is something that is developed over time.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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