Making it Fit
Once the patient and the doctor have agreed upon a plan, the financial coordinator is introduced to the patient. The financial coordinator is not a closer. The financial coordinator is the “fit expert.” Her job is “to make dentistry affordable.” She does this by first having a complete, thorough and expert understanding of dental insurance benefits and the offices available financing options. Before meeting the patient, she first needs to know what additional funds (insurance benefits) are available to help the patients receive care. Next, she must understand the goals of treatment, followed by empathetically listening to the patients to understand their unique financial reality. Finally, by weaving together what she has learned from the patient and the options the practice has made available to help her make dentistry affordable, she earns the position as the “fit expert.”
Just like a dentist, a financial coordinator must have the tools to practice her craft. The most common tools available are accepting credit cards, participating with dental plans (insurance and or discount plans), helping patients obtain outside financing with local banks or dedicated healthcare financings companies such as CareCredit and finally the private “in-house” financing options.
“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in determination.” Tommy Lasorda
Once the financial coordinator has been transitioned appropriately to begin helping the patient, she needs to start the process of learning and adapting to the patient she has been entrusted to assist. Hopefully, she has a full bag of tools at her disposal to pull as needed based on what she encounters. When a financial coordinator has her own personal favorite tool, it can get in the way of making dentistry fit. I have observed that many financial coordinators will gravitate toward something that sounds good to them but is a less workable alternative to the patient. This frequently happens when the office offers both interest-free financing and financing with interest. The financial coordinator may believe that interest-free is more beneficial to the patient than extended financing that has interest because the patient will ultimately pay more for the procedure when interest is added to the cost. A $3,000 fee interest-free for 6 months or 12 months is still $500 or $250 per month. If a patient only can afford $100 a month both of those interest-free options are unobtainable. For this reason, before presenting recommendations for financing care, the financial coordinator needs to ask two simple questions.
1. Do you prefer a low-interest rate or a low monthly payment?
2. What amount per month would you be able to pay for the treatment that you want?
The answer to question one cannot always be both unless your office is willing to extend low interest for a term longer than 12 months. The answer to question number two is a reality check. Whatever amount the patient offers up; try to do a little better. If the patient says they would be comfortable paying $150 per month, then figure out how to get to $125 per month. This is where a truly empathetic and skilled financial coordinator can help your office thrive.
Reworking the plan
“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” Napoleon Hill
Occasionally, you will encounter a patient who wants care, but it is impossible to pencil out any solution that works for both the patient and the practice. This situation is where treatment options come into play. If Mr. Smith wants two crowns to replace the two broken molars but can only afford $25 per month, and can’t get extended out of office financing, it probably won’t work for most offices to loan the patient this much money. This constraint does not mean the patient cannot get care. In my office, the financial coordinator’s job is now to find the doctor and ask what other option is possible. Perhaps, removing decay and placing a strong build-up or cementing a temporary crown with durable cement is necessary and more affordable. Be creative, be empathetic and be smart. Embrace the mantra that “We make dentistry affordable” and you will earn the opportunity to do more of the dentistry that you diagnose.