I just got back from the dentist, and something my hygienist told me is quite surprising. If you manage a dental practice, you’ll want to read this.
Hint: It has nothing to do with my teeth.
We were talking about how COVID has affected this small dental practice – one that’s been in business and thriving for the last 38 years in our local community. As my hygienist finished applying fluoride varnish to my teeth, through her mask and face shield, she said, “You know, since COVID hit, I’ve only been seeing six patients a day. I used to see eight patients a day. But, because we need more time to sanitize, we’ve had to eliminate two appointments every day for the last 10 months.”
There are two dentists and two hygienists at this practice. That means they’ve lost a minimum of four patients, five days a week, for nearly a year. In my conservative estimate, that’s about 800 fewer appointments than they’re used to. Which also means, by conservative estimate, based on a routine cleaning like mine, they’ve lost over $146,000 in revenue in the last 10 months! And that doesn’t even take into account all the other procedures, like root canals, fillings, and extractions.
This revenue loss is in line with the American Dental Association, who reports that dental offices have endured a consistent 20 percent lower patient base since pre-COVID days. And, this doesn’t even take into account whether the patients who do come in for their cleanings actually pay their dental bills on time, or at all.
Medical debt is a big problem for many Americans
Recent statistics show that nearly one-third of Americans have some kind of medical debt, and more than 54 percent of this group have defaulted on their payments. Surprisingly, we’re talking about people who are employed and have health insurance!
Here’s the good news: If you find your practice in a financial deficit as 2021 continues rolling forward, there’s something you can do about it. Making a few fairly simple adjustments in the office has the potential to yield outstanding results when it comes to collecting copays and increasing practice revenue. So, even if the trend of seeing fewer patients continues, you can still ensure that you’ll get the money that’s owed to your practice.
- Collect copays before the appointment. Asking for payment before patients go into a treatment room for a dental cleaning or another procedure means neither of you have to worry about it afterwards. Simply make it part of your new policy to verify insurance and collect copays as soon as a patient arrives for the appointment. If the exact total amount is unknown until afterwards, you can still take their credit card information up front and provide them with a detailed statement after the visit.
- Offer the types of payment methods your patients want. For an overwhelming majority of patients of all ages, paying electronically – through an email or text link – is the ideal way to pay. In fact, 68 percent of patients prefer to pay their medical bills online, but 86 percent of patients still receive paper bills. Use technology to automate your payment collection process. Instead of sending a paper statement, simply send a text or an email with a link to pay the balance online.
- Consider different payment options. Since so many Americans are putting off dental care to save money, providing payment options can make things easier for them. Why not offer payment plans, third-party payment vendors, or keep a credit card on file? With more options and knowing how payments will be handled up front, your patients are less likely to skip their appointments, therefore, reducing no-shows, too. It’s a win-win.
- Automate your recare process. Identify patients who missed their six-month check-ups and use technology to send texts, emails, and newsletters reminding them of the importance of routine dental exams and cleanings. You can also remind them that skipping dental appointments now could lead to more expensive dental work down the road! Preventive care almost always costs less than repair and reconstructive procedures!
- Get creative. Offer special discounts or incentives for patient referrals. For example, refer a new patient to the office, save 10 percent on a professional, at-home teeth whitening kit.
- Inform your patients of new services and fees. You might think now isn’t the best time to offer more treatments or services to your patients, but you never know unless you ask. I went in for a routine cleaning, and simply because the team told me about a less-expensive, faster, teeth aligning system than what they previously offered, I signed up for a consultation. Simply by telling me about this new service, they got me scheduled for another appointment for something I’ve always wanted to do. They also explained the new lower price, and told me how much I need to pay at my consultation, so there are no surprises at my next visit.
Even if you’re still trying to recover lost revenue from 2020, it doesn’t mean you can’t maximize the income from patients who are still coming in the door. Like most healthcare practices post-pandemic, you can’t afford not to.