Dentists are being hit on all sides by inflation. Expenses climb while production and revenue take a hit. It’s a tough spot, but there are ways to address it.
On this page, we’ll give some strategies you can apply right away to minimize the impact of inflation on production and help your patients get the care they need even when they’re faced with economic challenges. We’ll be following up soon with some ways to address expenses and improve cash flow too.
How Inflation Impacts Dental Patients
Inflation impacts dental practices in profound ways. One of the biggest is patient behavior—how, when, and why patients come in, and what they’re willing to spend on. Generally speaking, consumers make three major shifts when the economy tumbles:
- Reduction in non-essential spending.
- Choosing lower-cost options.
- Holding off on large purchases.
The same patterns are largely seen in dental spending too. Looking back on the 2008 economic downturn, both orthodontics and general dentistry plummeted per JADA research, though ortho took a bigger hit.
It’s worth noting, however, that patient behavior is typically impacted by income. For example, if your practice is largely comprised of low-income patients, inflation is likely to hit your practice harder. If your practice is largely comprised of middle-class patients, you’ll likely be more impacted than you would if your patient base was affluent but won’t see the shifts to the same degree those with lower-income patients do.
5 Ways to Keep Patients Coming in Despite Inflation
The good news is that you don’t just have to accept that times are lean. You can empower patients to complete treatment, keep your schedule full, and maintain production despite record-high inflation with these tips.
1. Educate Patients
Teach patients why preventative care matters. Use every opportunity to explain the signs, progression, and risk factors associated with periodontal disease as well as the benefits of preventative care. Go over it at each visit and include it in marketing materials – especially your practice newsletter.
Make sure patients understand preventative care is usually covered by insurance. Two-thirds of patients don’t think their insurance covers preventative care at 100 percent according to Cigna. The same study shows that the top reason why patients who have not received preventative care for a year continue to do so is that they’re afraid their exam will cost more. Mention how preventative coverage usually works when patients call to cancel, when you’re phoning patients to schedule, and in your practice marketing to increase follow-through.
Spend time explaining their care needs. When patients are worried about how to afford gas and milk, it’s easy to put off “small fillings” or question the importance of timely care. Use the tools your practice already has to show patients what’s happening with their oral health. For example, x-rays and intraoral cameras are very effective teaching tools. You can also show patients their graphical tooth chart in Practice-Web or their perio chart. When patients truly understand the nature of their condition, they’re more likely to follow through with treatment in a timely manner.
2. Provide Transparent Pricing
There are laws that govern how to manage patient estimates. At the end of the day, though, it’s simply good customer service to provide clear estimates. It increases case acceptance rates too. Make sure everyone who needs treatment leaves with a treatment plan. Whenever possible, email or text it to the patient too, so they have a digital copy they can review when they’re at home and at ease.
Don’t forget to include optional or cosmetic treatments on the plan when applicable. Some may still take advantage of them and others will at least have their options at the back of their mind for when money’s not so tight.
3. Discuss Ways to Save
Many practices swear by the “good, better, best” philosophy when treatment planning, which means the treatment plan includes all available options. For example, a patient who wants to replace a missing tooth might receive a quote for a partial denture, bridge, and dental implant all at the same time. That way, they learn the benefits and drawbacks of each solution. If a patient can afford the best solution and your practice has explained it well, they’ll usually opt for it, and those struggling financially can choose the best method within their means.
If you aren’t providing estimates with all options, at least make sure the patient understands they have choices and offer to create an alternate estimate if they’re concerned about costs.
It’s also advantageous to consider partnering with third-party discount programs or creating an in-house discount program. Read “Creating an In-House Discount Plan: Step-By-Step Instructions” for a full walkthrough on how to set up your plan in Practice-Web, administer it, and market it.
4. Explore Payment Options
As covered in our patient collections webinar, only about a quarter of patients can afford to pay a $400 dental bill in full. That number shrinks dramatically in a difficult economy. That means even if the patient understands the value of treatment and you’ve found ways to maximize their benefits and discounts, a huge portion of your patients still won’t be able to move forward with treatment without some kind of payment plan.
While most practices are familiar with “credit cards” that serve as short-term loans for patients, practices can wind up paying 15 percent or more to use these methods depending on the selected terms.
Instead, we recommend using Practice-Web’s native Payment Plans feature (in which case, the practice finances treatment) or DocPay (in which case, the practice pays nothing, and the patient finances treatment). Read “How to Eliminate Financial Barriers with Patient Payment Plans” for additional information on how these solutions work.
5. Market Effectively
We often talk about how important it is to reach your patients with timely messages. For example, reminding parents to schedule exams and cleaning during the summer, promoting whitening during the holidays, and encouraging patients to use their benefits before the year ends.
Your patient demographics will impact which services to promote. If your patients are mostly business professionals, you can still run whitening promotions, but perhaps gear it toward job seekers. If your patients are struggling, gear your messaging toward how you’ll work with them to ensure they get the care they need.
A few materials you might want to create include:
- Brochures that outline how you make care affordable.
- Brochures relating to your membership and payment plans.
- In-office signage for the front desk and treatment presentation areas.
- A dedicated webpage that outlines your financing/ payment options or verbiage on your website that indicates you have a plan for uninsured patients.
If you’re more involved in marketing your dental practice, you may also want to consider:
- Running a promotional email campaign. Practice-Web’s pwNewsletter mass email marketing Smart Tool can help you with this.
- Including mentions of your promotion in your practice newsletter. pwNewsletter can help with this too.
- Running text message campaigns that showcase your promo. Practice-Web’s pwConnect text message marketing Smart Tool can help with this.
- Sharing your promotion on social media.
- Running paid ads to attract new patients with your promotion.
Get Help with the Strategies Outlined Here
Many of the techniques outlined here are part of the core functionality of Practice-Web. Anyone with the software can use them.
- If you’re not currently using Practice-Web, start with a complimentary demo.
- If you have Practice-Web Support and want assistance with any of the strategies we covered here, open a Support Ticket. One of our specialists will walk you through it.
- If you don’t have Support but want assistance or want to sign up for Smart Tools, click here to renew or click here to talk to our sales department.