Why Patients Budget for New Phones But Not for Dentistry

Chris Moriarity and Angela Sullivan


One of the quickest ways to increase your team’s production is to change how they discuss the cost of treatment with patients. When people feel uncomfortable or are dealing with unfamiliar subject matter, their defenses tend to skyrocket. Your patients are terrified that they’re going get taken advantage of or made to look foolish. Ask any mechanic or lawyer, and they’ll all have a seemingly endless supply of hilarious (and troubling) customer reactions to prices. 

What makes this so confusing is the multitude of ways people willingly spend enormous sums of money with little to no expectation of equivalent value. Take the price of a beer at a baseball game. Outside the stadium, beer may cost $15 a case, or 60 cents a can. But in most ballparks, the same can is going to run you at least $8. There may be a decent amount of griping, but for each person who passes on the overpriced beer, there’s someone else buying two or more. 

Mentally, we’re continually creating micro-budgets based on the things we need or want to do. Knowing that beer can be purchased for 60 cents later doesn’t do you any good when you’re at the game. Most fans plan to buy a beer or soda and some food. They know this ahead of time, and they plan for it. Those add-ons are the price of the experience. We love the romantic notion of the American baseball experience, and once we’re in those seats, we’re not going to let a little thing like money get in the way of a good time. 

We see these patterns repeat in many areas of our life. Most people budget enough to make their car payments, but the second they need new tires they act like Goodyear and the Illuminati are conspiring to rip them off. There’s little to no consideration of the fact that those tires are arguably the item on the car most responsible for keeping them alive!

We budget for cars. We don’t budget for tires. We budget for vacations and new phones, but we certainly don’t budget for dentistry. We can’t see the forest through the trees, and this causes people to feel better about the oddly expensive three hours of baseball rather than the quality dentistry that has a good chance of lasting them the rest of their life.

That means that it’s up to us to take control of the financial conversation and show patients how we’re providing them with real value, not just the dental equivalent of an overpriced beer that leaves them slightly queasy in the hot summer sun. With commitment and practice, you can teach everyone on your team to have great financial conversations at the desk, in the operatory, and beyond. 

Your message must be, “Here at our practice, we have financial options that fit most budgets. Our role is to help you explore those options with us.” By teaching your team a few simple skills, you can increase case acceptance and connect your patients with care that improves their health and their lives. 

Learn How to “Ballpark” Your Fees 

I encourage dentists to shoot a little high with the estimated treatment cost, so when team members present the financial options, they come in a little lower and patients feel like they’ve won. The earlier we can have conversations about costs and financing, the sooner we can help patients understand the value of the treatment. 

When you don’t understand how technology, skill, and labor combine to deliver excellent dentistry, all the costs seem high. Ballparking allows us to combine patient education with the discussion of financial options so that they understand that they’re getting a good value for their money. 

Let Patients Know How Exciting Your Options Are

How we talk about treatment matters to our patients. We must be excited about the treatment plan and our financing options so our patients can also be excited about them. We, as an office, are proud of the fees we charge because we provide an excellent service. 

Use empowering words to discuss treatment options, and be confident that you’re offering what your patients need. Discuss empowering words with your team, and help them learn to be enthusiastic during financial conversations. 

This takes practice, so invest in your team and organize training on the topic. What words do we use? How do we handle objections? Have a plan and practice as a team. Good training builds your team’s confidence so everyone in the office can become a pro at case presentation. 

Create and Use a Financial Options Form

Keep it simple. For instance, create an Excel spreadsheet that lists all the financial options available to your patients. This will allow the team to put in just a couple of numbers, and then Excel does the rest. It quickly gives your team the information they need to talk to patients with confidence.  

End the discussion with a question for the patient: “Which one of these options works best for you?” Then wait quietly for the answer. The patient can review the options, like a percentage off for pre-payment, or a care credit option, or some type of extended payments, and ask questions. A good form shows the options in a monthly breakdown, so patients can see how each payment plan affects their monthly budgets.

To have successful financial conversations, the whole team must learn how to present options to the patient confidently, enthusiastically, and accurately. Let your patients know from the very first time they contact your office that you have financial solutions available to them, no matter what their needs or wants are. Give your patients the confidence to make smart dental care decisions, and do good by doing good. 

Mr. Moriarity, MA, FA, spent years working with attorneys and physicians before coming into dentistry in 2008 (just in time for all the fun). As a national speaker and as the vice president of client relations for the Productive Dentist Academy, he has been able to share tactics and ideas from coast to coast, helping hundreds of dental offices grow their businesses and better serve the communities they love. He can be reached at chris@productivedentist.com.

Ms. Sullivan loves helping doctors and teams reach their full potential. Her role is to help doctors and teams become better leaders and strengthen relationships with their patients. She works with the entire team in elevating the entire patient experience. By doing that, she is assisting the doctor in reaching his dream. She can be reached at angela@productivedentist.com.

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