How Can We Raise Patient Awareness of Dental Health, Show Value, and Stop the Negotiation of Fees?

Dentists are taking home less than ever, and the cost of running a quality practice is consistently increasing. So many dentists participate with PPO & HMO plans and then become disgruntled with the low reimbursements. Patients don’t think twice about asking a dentist for a discount on his/her fees. Or worse, a dentist will discount his/her fees before presenting treatment to a patient out of fear that the patient won’t accept the needed treatment.

The same patient who will ask for a discount doesn’t think twice about spending $1,000 or more on a new designer handbag. To her, the handbag screams status. “Look at me! I’m special.” The handbag designer has branded themselves well; have you branded your practice well? That is a discussion for another time.

I have an acquaintance who brags about the vehicles she has driven over the years: Maserati’s, Ferrari’s, 9 different BMW’s, Porsche’s, Jaguars, etc. She owns her own business and a home worth a over a million. She complains incessantly about the high cost of her dental care, yet needs no treatment beyond her 6 month recare.

I’ve met with many doctors over the past few years who consistently believe the downturn in the economy is the reason their practices are suffering or failing. I come from a background of indemnity insurance and fee for service. I remember in the 1980’s, patients rarely balked at the cost of treatment, and I was working with practices that did a LOT of high end cosmetic reconstructive treatment.

We in the dental community have failed

We’ve failed to educate the public on how their oral health effects their overall health. Failed in properly educating our patients about the value of our dentistry and the impact it can have on their lives. Dentists have failed themselves with the belief of “it’s the economy” attitude.

What if as a whole we in the dental world stood up to the big insurance companies and said no more? What would your life look like if you worked less, saw fewer patients and were to charge your full fee? I hope your fees are around the 80th percentile for your area. Again, a discussion for another time. It is my belief that we have allowed insurance to dictate how we run our businesses. Notice that I said businesses, not practices.

A business that has overhead to meet every month. For some reason, people seem to view the dental practice as anything other than a business. Yes, we are in the business of changing & saving lives, but at the end of the day a practice is still a business.

I also believe we have a society which feels entitled. Entitled to a new car every 2-3 years, the designer handbags, the luxury watches, etc. When doctors tell me it’s the economy, or patients just don’t value their dental health, my reaction is the following: Restaurants have long lines again and movie theater ticket prices have increased exponentially, yet the seats are full. Have you taken a trip recently? Planes are full, and airline ticket prices have increased.

One of these doctors had this discussion with me immediately after telling me about the $6,000 vacation she had just booked. She then proceeded to inform me that she could not afford a consultant or an Office Manager. This same doctor doesn’t participate with any PPO insurance plans, only works 3 days a week, and blames the “economy” for the reason she can’t afford a consultant.

What happens when you discount your fee for Mrs. Smith’s crown & build up, then Mrs. Jones who happens to be an acquaintance of Mrs. Smith comes to your practice expecting the same discount? We know moms talk to each other on the soccer field while watching their kids’ games.

And we want them talking, because word of mouth is the best advertising money can’t buy. But we want them talking about what a great practice you have, how enjoyable your team makes each appointment, and how important they feel while in your office. In other words, we want Ms. Patient excited about your practice. Are you excited about your practice? If you aren’t, your team, your patients, and your community won’t be either.

It’s time to stop degrading our beloved profession

Set yourself apart from the dentist on the next corner. Every practice has its core values, whether written or unwritten.  It’s your core values and patient education that keep your patients returning. Yes, some patients come to you because you participate with their benefit plan. The ones who’ve been educated to value your dentistry will stay or return once they realize the benefits they gain with being a patient of your practice.

Julie Mitchell, FAADOM