Eliminate the #1 Barrier to Treatment Acceptance
Although the foundation of your practice/patient relationships is typically built over time through preventive and routine restorative procedures, those established relationships can take on a different dynamic when a more costly procedure is recommended and payment issues must be addressed.
The goal during these discussions is to ensure that patients understand the value of your care, but most importantly that you genuinely care and value them. Keep in mind that patient attitudes today are different than they were a decade ago. Fewer of them immediately pursue treatment just because you’ve recommended it. They need a good reason. They need education. And they need to feel like they have a relationship with you and your practice. In fact, relationships have never been more important in influencing patient behaviors than they are today.
Building those relationships begins with listening carefully to patient concerns and communicating your understanding of their situation. If the patient doesn’t verbally express any objections, but their body language indicates that they are uncomfortable, ask a few specific questions to encourage them to open up. This will give you an opportunity to address concerns, and perhaps clear up any misperceptions.
I strongly recommend the use of scripts to prepare for financial discussions. These can be tremendously helpful in ensuring that everyone who handles payment conversations is well prepared. Develop them in advance and think through common scenarios that arise and how you and your team will handle them. Incorporate questions to elicit responses from patients who may seem reticent or uncommunicative. Scripts will guarantee that you are not left searching for the right words to effectively respond. Best of all, they are an ideal tool for those who find financial discussions difficult. And using them to prepare for patient conversations will most assuredly build not only your confidence but also your coffers.
While it is important to plan and to practice, a one-size-fits-all approach will not be effective and could come across as insensitive. For returning patients, consider what you’ve learned about them in the past to create a comfortable and relaxed environment. If they are normally upbeat and casual, then keep the conversation light. If they are normally more reserved, match their demeanor while still projecting a feeling of enthusiasm and confidence. New patients may require more time and new patient questionnaires will be essential in gathering critical information about their oral health priorities, goals, and concerns.
Consider what you know about the patient when deciding how to approach a financial discussion. If you are aware that he or she has been experiencing financial difficulties, it might be best to present payment options, perhaps a monthly payment or CareCredit, before revealing the total cost. This will help avoid a sticker-shock reaction that can cause the patient to shut down and not hear anything else that is discussed.
It’s important to continually educate patients about the importance of dental care, not only in terms of their oral health, but their overall health as well. Don’t assume that they know. In fact, most have very little understanding or even awareness of the many studies and reports that show the link between oral health and overall health. Educate them and they will place far greater value on the services you provide.
Make sure the right person is delivering the dollar discussion. A trained financial coordinator who is confident and friendly should handle payment conversations. They should reinforce the benefits of the care you are providing. Some people may value the appearance of a healthier smile, while others are interested in avoiding more costly procedures down the road. Doing your homework to determine beforehand what motivates the patient to seek dental care will pay huge dividends in reassuring them that they are getting their money’s worth. Most consumers don’t like being sold something, but they do enjoy buying things that they desire. You can help them along in the buying decision process by discovering their motives and repeating them back to them.
Once a patient has indicated that they wish to proceed with the recommended treatment, emphasize the wisdom of their decision and make sure that you and your team are prepared to schedule the appointment promptly. Demonstrating compassion, understanding, friendliness, and careful preparation gives patients confidence in the quality of your dentistry and the value of your care.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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