Steps to Ensure You’re Not Undercharging Patients
Attracting new patients to a dental practice can be challenging, and is a lot more work (and more expensive) than keeping the ones you already have. With that in mind, you do your best to ensure your current patients stay happy – and that includes never increasing your fees.
Many dentists think that keeping their fees low will also help them attract those elusive new patients, giving them another reason to hold prices steady. While that might be true, low fees won’t bring in the patients you really want. You’ll treat a lot of people who are just looking for the best deal, and who have no intention of becoming a permanent part of your patient base.
And of course, if you never raise fees, you likely won’t be able to invest in the types of technologies and practice updates that attract new patients and keep current patients coming back, which ultimately costs your practice money and will likely put a damper on team morale.
Raising fees isn’t something to fear; it’s an essential part of running your business. If you keep your prices fair and representative of what your practice offers, you won’t have to worry about losing loyal patients to a competitor. Patients expect you to raise your fees from time to time, and understand that any updates you make to the practice - which in turn enhance patient care - aren’t free.
Still, I understand the thought of increasing fees might make you more than a little uneasy. Don’t worry. I can help. Follow these six tips to implement a solid fee structure in your practice that both you and your patients can be happy with.
1. Set goals. Before you make any changes to your practice fees, it’s important to first determine how much money you need to bring in each month to pay the bills, make practice upgrades, save for retirement, and fund the lifestyle you’d like to lead. Then consider how many hours you’re willing to work each week to get there. Once you have that figured out, you can determine daily production goals. The goals you establish should guide you as you establish or adjust your fees.
2. Put together a fee schedule for every service you offer. To get started, determine how much it costs to perform the dentistry. Then factor in real practice data, such as your patient base, overhead, expenses, debt and your experience. When you’re determining how much you’re going to charge for services, don’t forget to consider the level of care you provide and the overall experience patients can expect at your practice.
3. Take the time to do your research. Find out what other dentists in your community charge. Remember, you don’t want to be the highest or the lowest. If you’re the highest, it could deter patients from making an appointment at your practice. If you’re the lowest, patients might think your practice isn’t as up-to-date as it should be.
4. Track your overhead expenses. These costs should be in-line with industry benchmarks. Here’s the breakdown:
Are your expenses above these benchmarks? If they are, you’re likely dealing with broken systems and it’s probably time to make some significant changes in your practice.
5. Make fee increases part of your plan. Establishing a solid fee for each service is important, but don’t stop there. Put a plan in place to ensure you adjust your fees twice a year: 2% the first time and 3% the second time, for a total of 5%. Your patients will barely notice the increases, but they will do wonders for your bottom line.
6. Don’t fall into the fee ceiling trap. What does that mean, exactly? Don’t attempt to establish your office fee schedule based on what some third-party payer reimburses at 65% of the 85th percentile. Instead, base fees on practice data and the goals you’ve established.
Where you set your fees is very important to the success of your practice. Many dentists opt to keep their fees the same year after year because they’re afraid of losing patients to a dentist with cheaper services. But if you never raise your fees, it makes it difficult to invest in the latest and greatest technologies that enhance the patient experience – and that means the quality of care you provide will likely suffer and you’ll end up losing patients anyway.
If you’re ready to finally raise your fees but need more guidance, feel free to contact me. As always, I’m here to help.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
Dealing with Issues and Objections
Anyone who has worked as a dental hygienist for a few years has heard their share of reoccurring patient issues and objections. Some happen so often many of us have just grown to accept them, even while struggling to address them.
Some objections are routine:
“I can’t brush very often because I am so busy, have a new job, have to study, lost my toothbrush, have to get up early.”
Some objections are more unique:
“I couldn’t brush because I was in a golf tournament, just got a new dog, have been outside at night using my telescope.”
There may also be issues while treating patients at the chair. Some situations can put you on the defensive and really test your ability to keep calm. For example, patients with poor homecare and thick plaque often have heavy bleeding during scaling. They may say, “Of course my teeth are bleeding, you are cutting my gums with your tools!”
Some situations can make you a little frustrated. For example, if you note (as tactfully as possible) that the patient has food between his teeth, he may tell you, “Well I just had lunch and didn’t have time to brush. I knew I was coming here so I figured you could take care of it.”
It’s important to not get defensive or annoyed when responding to these issues, as it won’t make dealing with them any easier. Instead, it helps to be prepared with a “soft answer” that might provide information as well as aiding in lightening the mood. When a patient offers an excuse for not brushing, you might say, “I’m sure that has made it hard to keep a good brushing schedule. After we are done today you will have a clean slate to get a fresh start.”
When a patient says that she can’t floss because it is too hard, you might say, “Today I am going to give you some easy to use tools that you might like better than floss.” Then offer piks, floss holders, proxa-brushes or other helpers.
If a patient says the water at his house is causing heavy plaque buildup, you might say, “That is an unusual problem. I am going to give you a new soft brush and some piks to help you keep ahead of it.”
If a patient says you are cutting his mouth with your tools, give the patient a hand mirror and show the bleeding that occurs when just tracing the gum line with an explorer. Explain that removing plaque and calculus is like taking out a splinter. The tissue is sore, but will get better after the deposits are removed.
Avoid questioning or arguing about whatever comments patients are making. Getting into a confrontation or insinuating that patients don’t know what they are talking about is not helpful and will just tend to make them more resistant. Calm and professional is the way to go.
While calm and professional is our goal, some situations can really test us.
For example; I have a patient who brings her two toddler children and infant to all of her hygiene appointments. She brings the children into the treatment room and holds the infant on her lap during treatment. I know she does not have access to babysitters and I want to treat her effectively, but having two little ones in the room along with a squirmy infant on her lap makes taking care of her very difficult. Our front desk staff tries to help out with the toddlers, but the baby is another story. We want to keep her in the practice and don’t want to say that if she brings the children, we can’t see her. So, my solution is to do the best I can under rather adverse conditions.
Another patient is a businessman with a crowded daily schedule. He keeps his cell phone with him and interrupts treatment frequently to answer calls or to text. He has acknowledged that he knows the calls are disruptive, but asks that I go ahead with treatment anyway. He is a great patient and friend of the dentist. Again, my solution is to do the best I can in-between calls and texts.
One of our older patients is a world class talker. He has a million stories and wants to visit with everyone. He has something to say or explain every time I remove an instrument from his mouth. An even bigger problem is he tells jokes and spends 15 minutes getting to the punch line. My solution is a mouth prop and suction.
Dealing with patient issues is just a part of providing patient care. Striving for professionalism, while realizing that in some cases we can only do the best we can at the time, is a realistic way of dealing with most of these issues.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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