By David H. Pier, DMD
I opened a second dental practice just as COVID-19 hit.
With a planned late March 2020 opening, we could not have picked a more challenging time to begin a new practice. Forced to close for more than two months before we could even open, bills were piling up with no income to cover them. With the usual cost over-runs and plans to cover them with increased income from greater capacity thwarted by an unforeseeable foe, the prospects looked bleak indeed. When we were finally given the go ahead to re-open (which the governor only approved after a state-wide outcry from our patients who wanted access to dental care), we were faced with the new challenges of getting access to sufficient PPE, buying air purifiers and room foggers, and creating new protocols. To say it was poor timing to begin a new venture like a second practice would be a major understatement!
After the darkness of forced closure and mounting bills, how did we find the glimmer of light and hope for a future better than ever?
Yes, it was a challenging time to begin a new practice, especially considering the increased overhead and a “soft opening” to get used to our new protocols and assure our team and patients of our commitment to safety. While the timing of the practice opening could not have been worse, it turned out to be the best time to commit to our in-house membership plan in the new location.
With the future unknown, and so many patients with no access to dental insurance, the acceptance rate when presented with the option of joining our membership plan was nothing short of astounding. In the first four months of opening our new location, we gained over 100 members. That means we had over 100 patients who committed to our practice for the long haul.
Additionally, with the benefits included in their membership, the case acceptance rate is far above what it is for non-member patients. While high membership and case acceptance has been a powerful income producer, the best news is that the word got out and patients began calling the new office saying, “I heard about your insurance plan.” Free marketing! (Of course, it is important to let them know it is a membership plan, not insurance.)
How did we achieve these results? How can you also benefit from increasing your membership numbers?
When are the best times to present a membership plan?
The best times to offer membership to your patients are during the initial visit and during case presentations. At the close of the first visit, we ask our new patients if they have heard about our membership plan. Many have not, so we follow saying, “With our membership plan x-rays are included so today’s visit would only be $125 rather than $270, plus your preventive care visit will be free. Would you like to hear more about it?” Of course, the patients always want to hear more so we bring out the prepared paperwork that quickly shows the costs and savings associated with joining. Once patients see the clear and obvious advantage of membership plans (ours is DenVantage), most say yes. Some will want to go home and talk it over with their spouse, which in every case acceptance course we are told is just another way to say no, but most of those patients call right back and sign up anyway. It’s that easy.
What about during case presentations? The process is the same, but with even more savings the incentive to join is even more compelling. The added benefit of using a membership plan during case presentations is the change in thought process the patient experiences. Once they see that they are receiving a benefit towards their proposed treatment, patients are more than two times as likely to move ahead with their necessary treatment. Win-win.
What about the skeptical patient?
It is not uncommon for patients to ask, “What’s the catch?” It is natural to be skeptical when a deal seems too good to be true, and plans like DenVantage are certainly a good deal for our patients. But - it is also a great deal for us. How do we express this in a way that does not sound mercenary? It would not be appropriate to say, “Well we have found more of our DenVantage patients accept the proposed treatment so we make more money…?” No, the answer has to express the win-win nature of DenVantage in a way that patients understand and appreciate. In answer to our skeptical patients, we explain that two of the primary things that increase our overhead are missed appointments and people who do not take full responsibility for their accounts. “With the membership plan, you commit to keeping your appointments and keeping your account balances at zero – two things you would do anyway. That reduction in our overhead allows us to pass those savings on to you. We feel our best patients deserve to benefit from helping us keep costs down.”
What are the roadblocks that keep practices from experiencing the level of success we received from our membership plan?
If DenVantage is such a great benefit to the practice, why would a team member not offer it to all their patients? Answer: training and time. First, team members must be trained in simple verbal skills to open the discussion of membership. The words used above, “Have you heard about our membership program?” is the perfect and simple segue. From there the conversation should flow easily, which leads to the second roadblock – time. The time it takes to sign up a member must be minimized. The solution is having a simple sheet summarizing the costs and benefits of membership followed by an on-line simple sign-up process. While it does take a little extra time at first to sign up a new patient, that time is quickly made up by the increased efficiency every time a membership patient comes in for preventive care and by-passes the front desk because there is no need to collect payments that day.
Conclusion? No, that was not an ideal time to open a new dental practice, but it was the ideal time to open or increase a membership plan!
David H. Pier, DMD
Dr. David Pier owns Mount Pleasant Dental Care and is an assistant professor at the University of New England College of Dental Medicine. He has also developed and presented courses throughout the United States teaching dentists to communicate better with their patients. He is a recognized leader in the field of dentist / patient relationships. An avid continuing education devotee, Dr. Pier attends about 100 hours every year – more than four times the required amount.