A Patient’s Journey to Healthcare Financing

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” ~Henry Winkler

Spoken during a moment of reflection, this observation evokes a powerful visual on the risks of assumptions in any relationship. It’s especially distressing when applied to a medical practice’s patient relationships; after all, misunderstandings can eat away at your patients’ confidence in you to solve their pressing problems. That’s one reason why the “journey map” has become a popular tool for many medical practices, service organizations, and companies.

If you’re new to the term, a journey map is a visual tool that helps an organization better understand the typical “stories” or circumstances behind a customer’s or patient’s experience with its brand. The map plots a customer’s “journey” from her first encounter until what hopefully develops into a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. You can read more about journey mapping here, but this blog will explore how healthcare financing is transforming the patient journey for many healthcare practices by illustrating a particular example in the dental industry.

Meet the Patient

Sarah is a recent college graduate who is excited about her first job with a prestigious employer in a brand-new city. Yet despite the exhilaration, she also feels the financial pressure of school loans, rent, and a car payment on top of everyday expenses. So, when she chips a front tooth during a weekend game of soccer, her typical fear of visiting the dentist is magnified by worries about how much a needed veneer will cost. Unfortunately, her dental insurance doesn’t cover cosmetic procedures. How will she pay when she’s barely getting by?

When Sarah visits a nearby dental practice recommended by a friend, the dentist takes her tooth measurements and coloring and is able to provide a temporary veneer. He then refers Sarah to the receptionist to schedule a follow-up appointment. As she approaches the front desk, Sarah’s mind is whirling. She’s fairly certain the veneer will exceed the $400 left on her credit card’s spending limit. She wants to cry because she knows that she can’t present a gap-toothed smile in her new job, and she has already been late on credit card payments in the past. How will she look in front of total strangers if she has to admit she can’t afford the veneer? Will she have to ask her employer for an advance? Maybe she can visit one of those payday lenders… or as a last resort, ask her parents for yet another handout.

Path A: Limited Finance Options Cause Missed Revenue

When Sarah sees the quote for her veneer, she nearly chokes: $2,220. Nervously, she asks whether the dentist has a payment plan to cover the $1,720 she can’t put on her card. “We do offer financing,” the receptionist says, handing her a clipboard. “Here, fill out this form. We’ll let you know within five business days if you’re approved and can schedule an appointment then.” Sarah weighs her options. Maybe she can live with a funny gap in her teeth for a while. She doesn’t know this, but over 59% of adults in the United States indicated they forego dental care due to cost1; and an insurance industry that is not as likely to cover dental procedures as frequently as medical care. In fact, an estimated 40% of spending on dental care was out of pocket, compared to 11% of total health spending, according to a recent U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services analysis2.  As a result, dental practices miss out on hundreds of millions in unrealized patient care.

Path B: Flexible Financing Retains Patient and Revenue

The dentist practice Sarah is visiting has completed a journey mapping exercise and knows that up to 40% of its patients are uninsured or under-insured. It also understands the trepidation many patients feel when it comes to asking about financing options. For that reason, the dentist has introduced a new system for accepting financing applications. When Sarah approaches the front desk to schedule her procedure, the receptionist hands Sarah a tablet. The instructions read, “How would you prefer to pay?” The screen presents two selections: 1. Cash/credit; and 2. Financing. Sarah selects “financing” and begins to answer a few short questions.

Behind the scenes, the tablet Sarah is holding is powered by the LendPro Application WaterfallTMsystem, which will quickly match Sarah’s credit status with the loan option best suited to her needs. Her eventual financing option will be paired from a selection of trusted lenders her dentist has chosen. After entering her information into the tablet on LendPro’s secure and private platform, the right loan is found and approved. Within minutes after accepting the tablet, a very relieved Sarah returns the device to the receptionist with a smile on her face.

In Path B, a forward-thinking dental practice has taken the time to understand its patients. Sarah will quickly have the treatment needed to relieve her embarrassment and discomfort. Even better, she has set up a payment plan that will work for her and avoided an awkward situation of being turned down for financing options in front of strangers.

Meanwhile, the dentist has retained a patient for life, thanks to a practice manager who made a patient’s challenging journey a simple walk through the park. That’s the power of healthcare financing: the crucial bridge to patient loyalty and retention in today’s marketplace.

Source1: Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States (American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute State Fact Sheets 2015). 
Source2: Many Americans Skip the Dentist Due to Cost (WebMD).