Affording Dentistry Is A Choice
Yesterday, “Lucy” was in the office and commented to her hygienist that she was thinking about retiring soon. The hygienist congratulated her on this decision and was happy for Lucy. As the appointment came to an end, Lucy commented to the hygienist that she did not know if she would be seeing her anymore. The hygienist immediately asked Lucy why, and Lucy said she would be losing her insurance if she decides to retire.
Now - what would happen next if this patient were in your hygiene chair? Would you say, “Oh, I will miss seeing you” and move on? Would you make a note in the chart, and move on to the next patient in the schedule? What would you like to happen?
One option would be to say to the patient, “Lucy, even if you don’t have insurance you still need to take care of your health.” The patient may reply back, “Yes, but if I don’t have insurance I won’t be able to afford it.” Just this little conversation tells the hygienist a lot about the patient and her concerns, but the hygienist will want to confirm with the patient at this time that her true concern is money.
“Lucy, I understand that you are concerned with being able to afford your future dental appointments, because you will not have insurance.” Once Lucy confirms to the hygienist that this really is her main concern, it’s time to have the next conversation, which takes very little time and may save the practice from losing a patient, and may help a patient realize that she can afford to have the future dental care that she needs and wants.
“Lucy, you may be surprised at how little you need to save every month to be able to maintain the health of your mouth. I will give you the worst-case scenario when it comes to having your hygiene appointments, x-rays, and exams as long as you don’t need any restorative.
4 periodontal maintenance appointments - $157
$913 divided by 365 days in a year shows that you would need to save $2.50 a day. This is less than a soda, a cup of coffee, or even worse a pack of cigarettes a day. Even if you need a crown at approximately $1200 for one, with insurance you would more than likely have to pay 50% of anyway. The daily amount that you would need to save is $5.79 a day. The x-rays I included are based on the most costly, a full mouth series. We only take these every 3-5 years but I wanted to make sure you were prepared for those also. The years we take what we call bite wing x-rays will cost even less. Just think if you put away enough every year to pay for a crown, and don’t use it, you will be creating quite a savings account for yourself for dental care.”
This conversation does not take any time at all. The hygienist can even provide a cushion in the dollar amounts to provide for fee increases. (The fees used in this article are fictional and created to give an example only.)
Usually we would not want anyone but the financial coordinator going over fees, but this specific conversation started in the hygiene room. The hygienist is not quoting fees specifically and is the person the patient has chosen to discuss this with - possibly because the hygienist is the person Lucy feels most comfortable having the conversation with.
Even if the hygienist does not chose to have this actual conversation with the patient, knowing how affordable maintenance of the oral cavity really can be will help to prevent the hygienist from getting into the mindset that the patient can and will only do what the insurance will cover. If the patient does have more involved questions, then the hygienist should refer the patient to the financial coordinator.
This is a great conversation to have with patients that are losing their insurance, or who say they can’t afford treatment. Patients may even have a flex spending account that they can put money in, and because the money is taken out of their paycheck prior to taxes, oftentimes this amount will not even be noticed. When patients are educated and informed by the entire dental team about treatment needed, the cost, and how affordable it is, patients will be more accepting to continue their care.
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