Print & Go GuidanceBy Noelle Copeland, RDH
In the complex landscape of modern dentistry, ensuring that patients can access and afford the treatment they need is a professional obligation and a critical element of comprehensive oral healthcare. Since the cost of dental procedures is often a barrier for patients seeking essential care, dental professionals must have several options to present to their patients regarding financing.
In this article, we will explore five effective strategies that, when combined or used individually, can elevate patient care acceptance and assist patients in understanding their overall financial investment.
1. Guiding Patients Through the Complex World of Dental Insurance
Dental insurance is one of the primary ways patients seek to finance their dental care. However, understanding insurance plans can be confusing for many. According to BMC Health Services Research findings, the mere act of having dental insurance is associated with improved dental visiting behaviors and oral health status outcomes.
Elevating patient knowledge goes beyond the superficial. Patients should possess a profound understanding of the services covered by their plan. This spans preventive care, basic procedures, and major treatments while encouraging them to recognize specific treatment categories under each tier. To navigate dental insurance effectively, patients must decipher the financial intricacies of their policy, including:
- Annual and quarterly maximums
- Usual, customary, and reasonable set fees (UCR)
- Alternate benefits
- Explanation of Benefits (EOB)
Professionals painstakingly understand these bullet points, but they're the most misunderstood guidelines by patients.
2. The Patient Financing Revolution
Patient financing options have undergone a transformative evolution, and at the heart of effective patient-dentist interactions lies the art of successful financial conversations, including the ability to:
- Educate and empower the patient.
- Discuss payment options clearly with the patient or responsible party.
- Address any of the patient's concerns.
Navigating these conversations with finesse empowers patients with knowledge and strengthens the patient-dentist bond, ensuring informed decisions. The American Dental Association (ADA) has outlined several approaches to weigh when offering financial options, including:
- Third-Party Financing: Forge partnerships with reputable healthcare financing companies specializing in dental care. The innovative "Care Now, Pay Later" programs are reshaping the landscape of dental financing. This forward-thinking approach allows patients to receive immediate treatment while deferring payment over time. This approach encourages timely and comprehensive care by dismantling financial barriers, benefiting both patients and practitioners. The Oral Health Group has provided valuable insights into this paradigm shift for third-party payment plans.
- In-House Savings Plans: For the discerning dental professional, the advent of in-house dental savings plans represents a seismic shift that warrants meticulous consideration for patients who may not qualify for external financing or prefer to deal directly with the dental practice. According to the ADA Guide on in-house plans, Dental Membership Savings Plans or Direct Primary Care Agreements (DPCA) have state laws restricting how care is established and regulated. As with all contractual relationships, knowing your state's DPCA engagement laws is important.
- Healthcare Credit Cards: Inform patients about healthcare-specific credit cards such as CareCredit, which offer flexible payment terms and diverse usage options such as chiropractic care, veterinary care, and funeral services.
The availability of these financing options ensures that patients have a range of choices that suit their financial circumstances, making dental care more accessible.
3. The Preventive Paradigm: A Cost-Efficient Approach
Embracing preventive care as a cornerstone of your practice promotes oral health and offers cost-efficiency. The National Academies report on oral health underscores the significance of preventive measures in reducing the need for costly treatments. Encourage regular check-ups, cleanings, and early interventions to prevent dental issues from escalating.
- Utilize visual aids, such as intraoral photos and educational videos, to illustrate the benefits of early intervention. Show patients the consequences of neglecting preventive care, such as the progression of gum disease or decay.
- By instilling a sense of responsibility for their oral health, patients can minimize the financial impact of dental issues.
- Encourage them to see preventive care as an investment in their long-term well-being.
- Preventive care can function as a financial safeguard, reducing the burden of extensive treatments for patients while preserving their oral health.
4. Referring Patients to Dental Assistance Programs
In cases where patients face financial hardships and cannot afford dental care through the traditional and expanded measures stated here, refer them to dental assistance programs and charitable organizations. These programs aim to provide free or low-cost dental services to individuals in need.
Maintain a list of local organizations and clinics that offer dental assistance and share this information with patients when appropriate. Some patients may be unaware of these resources, and your guidance can significantly affect their access to care.
5. Alternative Pathways to Care: Dental Schools and Clinical Trials
Dental schools serve as a dynamic referral option for financially challenged patients. Aspiring dentists receiving rigorous education and hands-on training need real-world patients. Most dental schools will provide valuable dental services to the community through a referral or lottery-based system, often at significantly reduced costs.
Clinical trials are ideal for case-specific patient needs that align with research studies conducted to evaluate new dental treatments, techniques, or technologies. Participating in a dental clinical trial provides patients with access to cutting-edge care and contributes to the advancement of dental science.
These innovative approaches to financing dental care are not merely transactional but transformational. They embody a commitment to accessible, affordable, and comprehensive oral healthcare. Dental professionals can empower their patients to prioritize oral health without financial constraints by adopting these strategies and staying abreast of evolving options. This dedication to patient-centered care not only benefits individual practices but also contributes to improved overall oral health throughout communities.
In a world where dental health is paramount, the fusion of advanced dental strategies and patient financial empowerment is the key to brighter smiles and healthier lives.
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Author: Noelle Copeland, RDH, brings over 28 years of clinical dental experience to her role as a leading oral health practitioner. Specializing in health science copywriting and dental content creation, Noelle serves as a trusted and regular ghostwriter for industry giants like Dentsply Sirona, Align Technology, Trivium Test Prep, and Reality Works, Inc. She is an established dental copywriter and was the leading dental expert on "The Brilliant Oral Care Podcast" show on Spotify. Noelle continues to offer her expertise and knowledge in the dental field to brands, private practices, and dental corporations.