Years ago I listened to a dental practice consultant (Kirk Behrendt) say one of the most important mantras for a dental team is “we make dentistry affordable.” Over the years I have tried my best to instill in my teams the importance of the sentiment that is behind these words. One of the great opportunities of having multiple dental practices and several associate dentists and the financial coordinators that go along with these practices is that I get to introduce this important concept again and again as we grow and new people join the practices. I have found that this simple phrase is not simple in practice.
By far the biggest confusion I encounter is the concept of affordability. When I ask my team “what does affordable mean for a patient?” I get many variations of cost and fee. Occasionally I will hear them talk about cost regarding whether or not the patient has “enough” money to pay for the service. Rarely do I get the answer in the way that I believe the dental team should be thinking of the concept. In my opinion making dentistry affordable is customizing the terms of payment OR tailoring the treatment rendered in a way that helps the patient get the dentistry that they want. Sure, the cost is a factor in the equation, but it is not THE factor.
“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” Warren Buffett
I often hear from team members and patients alike that dentistry is expensive. Maybe they are right? Expensive is an opinion, not a fact. Are groceries expensive, housing, furniture, vacations, Starbucks, automobiles, or clothing? I guess the answer for all of these things are both yes and no. Most people spend money on every one of those items, and they all find a way to make it work. Some of those items are needs, and some are wants, but they all find their way into the ledger on an annual basis. So what are people saying when they say dentistry is expensive? They are saying they either don’t value the service or cannot figure out a way to fit another expense into their spending at the time they say those words. The first step to making dentistry affordable rests squarely on the shoulders of the dentist. Have you made the case to the patient that the value of your services is worth something? If the answer is yes and the patient has moved from needing the services to wanting the services, then the heavy lifting moves from the provider to the financial coordinator. Their job is to make it fit. Sometimes this is easy, and other times it can be a real challenge.
I try to make the point to all of my associate dentists, hygienists and dental specialists that before bringing in the financial person to present fees, that they must discover if the patient wants the care or not? It is a waste of everyone’s time to show fees when the patient has not verbally agreed to the goals of the plan. Yes, costs are a factor in deciding between options, but don’t let that get in the way of getting to a consensus on care. I have come to believe that if people can first compare health to disease, then be made aware of the consequences of non-action, and finally are given choices to move toward health; most people will make wise choices for themselves. As a dentist, we are trained to become experts in our field. This expert bias can become a trap that inhibits you from connecting with patients. Without a connection, it becomes difficult to let them guide you to an answer that they want. I try my best to take my “expert hat” off and stop my natural tendency to tell people what the should do. I succeed more often in helping my patients become healthier when I can act as an unbiased reporter, an interpreter of value, and a partner on the journey to health. For more on the process of building value, I encourage you to read the works of Mary Osborne, Robert Frazier, or other posts I have written on the subject. In parts two and three we will discuss transitioning from treatment planning to financial planning and the primary role of the financial coordinator–making it fit.
click on the link above for more on the process of building value as a dentist.