Once the patient and the doctor have agreed upon a treatment plan, there needs to be an introduction of the financial coordinator to the patient. The financial coordinator is not a closer. The financial coordinator is the “fit expert.” Her job is “to make dentistry affordable.” Remember in part one that building value and coming to treatment plan consensus is the responsibility of the provider. Once an agreement is established a transition from treatment planning to financial planning must take place. This transition can be done in many ways. Preferably, it begins by accurately and precisely reviewing what has been agreed upon by the patient. Following are two transition strategies that have proven results.
The Doctor Handoff
The doctor can handoff the agreement by discussing the details of treatment with the patient in front of the financial coordinator to bring him up to speed and validate with the patient that there is no misunderstanding of what has been decided. Depending on the physical constraints of your practice this can take place in the operatory or in a consultation room. “Mrs. Smith this is Ken who is here to make the dentistry that you want affordable. Ken is an expert at not only understanding your dental benefits but also in ensuring that we get as much assistance from that benefit as possible. Ken also has a range of tools that can help fit the fees associated with your care into your life in a way that makes the most sense to you.” “Ken, Mrs. Smith and I decided that the best way to replace the tooth on the upper right is to have our periodontist Dr. Fantastic remove the tooth, and do the procedures needed to place a dental implant.” “Mrs. Smith, does that still sound like the plan you would like to pursue?” “Great, Ken would you please help Mrs. Smith understand all the financial information that she needs to get started on this procedure and help her get on Dr. Fantastic’s schedule?”
The Cool Handoff
Another option is the cool handoff. The cool handoff takes place after the doctor has explained the treatment to the financial coordinator away from the patient and reviewed the treatment plan for accuracy. The cool handoff is not as effective as the doctor handoff because the doctor is making a warm introduction, but it sometimes is necessary when the doctor has to move on to another patient and cannot get back to the room to transition the patient personally. The financial coordinator can introduce herself to the patient and confirm the care being sought. “Hi Mr. Smith, my name is Jill, I work with Dr. Cairns to help make the dentistry that you want affordable. Before we begin, I would like to ensure that I completely understand the care that you and Dr. Cairns discussed. Dr. Cairns explained to me that you would like to replace the missing tooth on the upper right with a dental implant. Is that correct?”
Once the patient agrees to the treatment plan then it is time to present the fee. Both of the “doctor handoff” and the “cool handoff” options bring the financial coordinator and the patient to the same place–a desire to see how they can afford the treatment they want. Now is the time to show costs.
Presenting fees is harder for some than for others. I have had financial coordinators who are very matter of fact and others who beat around the bush. In my experience, the number one thing that the patient wants to know is: how much will their portion be. The longer you take to get to the bottom line, the more likely you are to lose them in the process. For this reason, I recommend letting the patient know what the patient wants to know quickly and confidently.
“Mr. Smith let me show you the fees associated with the care that you want. The total of all the fees is $8,200, and with your dental benefit (Be sure to include the discount you offer this patient if you participate as an in-network provider) your total out of pocket expense will be $3,800.”
Here it is wise to stop talking for a moment and let the reality of the situation settle in before the financial coordinator begins filling in space (one of the hardest skills to teach.) If the financial coordinator starts too early, the patient most likely will not hear what he is saying as he begins to try and solve his financial fit issues.
After a moment the financial coordinator can fill the space in one of two ways.
1. The financial coordinator can ask “is that an amount that you can take care of at the time of service or would you like to hear about the options available to spread this expense out over time?”
2. The financial coordinator can ask how the patient would like to take care of your patient portion?
The advantage of option two is that sometimes patients will offer up their own idea of a financial arrangement, such as “Do you take American Express?” or “Can I pay half now and the other half when we finish?” As cool as that scenario is, it is increasingly rare in today’s world. If you are committed to making dentistry affordable, I think option one is more empathetic and has a greater chance of moving from maybe to yes. Some people don’t want to admit that they need help and these patients will often bluster and say something like “Okay, that sounds good, I just need to talk over this with my wife, and I’ll call you to set up an appointment.” Don’t take this answer as a yes; this reply is a NO. If you offer to help people with payment plans, you will often be able to surprise people by letting them know that the dentistry they want may be possible for a dollar amount each month that works well with their lives.
In our final segment on making dentistry affordable, we will discuss the tools that a financial coordinator can utilize to get to yes and a strategy to help those who just can not make it work.