As described last time, patients are struggling. The future of the ACA, its affect on dental insurance, and related topics are top of the news now, and however this is resolved will likely be a topic of heated debate for many years to come.
But while legislators and regulators work through these issues, patients are more often then we admit struggling to pay for their care. The good news is that there are a growing number of options for patients to get safe and affordable financing for their care, that allow them to pay later and in a manner that suits their budgets. This ecosystem of new and innovative payment options has the added benefit of giving dental and medical practices quicker access to cash and a reduced burden of receivables management.
Until recently there have only been a small handful of companies offering medical and dental practices safe and affordable financing products to offer their patients. Now, there are a number of prime lenders or secondary lenders offering revolving credit (pay a percentage of the balance) or installment (fixed payment amounts) credit loans. Patients who don’t qualify for a prime lender are still very credit eligible. The difference is in the risk. Typically, a secondary lender will have deferral periods offered that are shorter like six months or one year compared to longer deferral periods with prime lenders. The loan amounts are lower than a prime lender but depending on the amount of the treatment, they’ll be able to get their procedure done right away and experience better overall health.
So, with well-known demand for financial help, and proven products, the missing element is the attention of the practitioner and practice manager. Financing isn’t easy to discuss. There is a natural resistance in staff to offer financing and for patients to discuss their private, less than perfect finances. Filling out a credit application for the prime lender and being denied makes it difficult to address the elephant in the room. Asking the patient to fill out another application for a secondary lender can send them out the door. So often, the whole financing process or part of it is avoided. In the dental industry, 50% of patients don’t know financing is even available. Consumers will walk into a jewelry store looking for financing because they know it’s the only way they’re going to buy a new watch and afford the payments. They also look for financing in the elective cosmetic industry to allow them to get the procedure they want and right away. For rank-and-file medical and dental offices, though, financing is still sparsely available and rarely openly discussed. This does patients a disservice.
Letting patients know during their consultation that their treatment can be partially or fully financed builds trust and loyalty in your patients. Practices may target markets with specific profiles including income, age, gender, and geography, but loyalty will schedule their second and subsequent appointment. Every interaction with the patient matters.
Patients stay and remain loyal to their dental office from a combination of hard attributes and soft attributes. Hard attributes include the office proximity to the patient’s residence, whether the practice accepts the patient’s insurance plan, whether patients are able to make appointments online, and the hours the practice is open. To this, add whether the practice offers financing for less than great credit.
Soft attributes are service oriented. What’s the reputation of the practitioner? Do they trust and like the dentist? Does the office keep up with technology? Do they have state-of-the-art equipment? Does the practice staff listen and meet the patient’s family’s needs in a convenient, fast and efficient way? To this, add how the practice chooses to discuss financing and the ease and comfort with which it is offered.
The use of simple and comfortable lending technologies can address both types of attributes and build loyalty in a practice. In the past 10 years there’s been an increasing environment of improvement, from digital software platforms showing patients areas of diagnosis to proposed treatment. They allow sharing among staff members reducing redundant tasks and increasing efficiencies for doctors.
Software finance platforms that work with different lending partners can allow patients finance options using a lender waterfall process that allows one quick and easy process. With the instant results, a patient can receive an actionable, written financial solution to their treatment that they can take home, discuss and decide how they want to move forward. Getting a follow up call and asking how they’d like to proceed would be appreciated by the patient, even if they decide not to use financing. Technology creates a seamless, streamlined environment contributing to the convenience of shorter appointments and same day procedures. All with the goal of improving the patient care experience, and attributable quality outcomes.
The returns of investing in new technologies and services isn’t always measured in monetary terms. Investing in services, assisting the doctors’ desire to serve those in their care, supporting cheerful staff able to support their patient’s broad needs, and the desire to build a solid practice with patient goodwill, are all on the table, and will pay dividends for years to come.
Mary Pat Koslowski