Talking finances in a clinical setting

One of the greatest challenges for many dentists is the need to discuss money with patients. Dentists are people who are devoted to the well-being of their patients; just read any dental school admissions essay and you will clearly see that we are a population of helpers. So in the dental operatory, after having presented treatment to the best of your ability, you may dread the eventual question, “How much will this cost?” Your intuitive reaction may be to flee, to allow others to field this question or to respond with defense: “You need this treatment! How much it costs is irrelevant!” But, as Vince Lombardi once said, “Preparedness is the ultimate confidence builder.”

Dr. Singh

Dr. Singh

The best way to handle the difficulty of discussion money is to go into any patient encounter prepared. The following outlines three steps you can take to effectively prepare for this discussion:

  1. Hire the Right Person

The best person to discuss the intricacies of the cost of treatment is not the dentist. Our role in the practice should be clearly clinical. When hiring the front staff or office manager, ask questions regarding sales experience. This will help you find the right fit for these responsibilities. It may be difficult to see dentistry as a business involving sales, but we must remember sales and ethics are not mutually exclusive. Dentistry does involve sales in the complexities of treatment acceptance. When you hire the right people, people who have a comprehensive knowledge of sales psychology and insurance procedures alike, they will be able to have an objective and educational conversation with the patient and close on the treatment you have prescribed.

  1. Understand insurance.

Insurance is very common in our day and age. And depending on the type of insurance, the cost to the patient can vary significantly. As a new dentist, this is one of the most challenging things to maneuver. If your practice accepts a wide range of insurance, it is necessary to get acclimated to not only understanding how certain insurance plans work but also what verbiage to use when explaining insurance matters to patients. This will primarily fall on the treatment coordinator to articulate, but in times when the dentist needs to discuss these matters, it is best when it has been ironed out and the dentist has a good working knowledge of matters.

  1. Know Your Role

Although you must have the right people on your team, this does not give the dentist a free pass. Dentists must understand that their treatment has a financial (and emotional) value attached to it. Dentists must be comfortable enough discussing finances enough to cohesively pass the baton to their team. The patient will typically ask these questions at the end of a diagnostic appointment. The dentist’s role is to translate the value. My general rules of thumb for my involvement with finances is as follows:

  • Do not get in the way. The worst thing a dentist can do is misquote treatment fees (either too high or too low). I have a generalized understanding of UCR for all treatment codes and a general understanding of how much insurance typically covers. But when I do not know the specific cost, I hold my tongue and let the patient know we must collect more information to give a more precise estimate.
  • Do set the stage. Whenever possible, I do let the patient know how much they can expect to pay but also let them know that my staff are excellent at figuring out the tricky details with insurance. I make sure they have no additional clinical questions and understand the value of the treatment I am recommending before helping them transition to a meeting with a treatment coordinator.
  • Do ask questions. It is really easy to make assumptions when hearing questions about cost. It is almost intuitive to assume they most likely cannot afford treatment. But at times, it is more complex than that. I like to respond with open ended questions like “Is cost a primary concern for you?” This allows me to see if their question is about affordability, treatment spacing, payment plans or timing.

Discussing finances may seem cumbersome at first but with some practice, you will find that it is the key to making your business thrive.

Dr. Amisha Singh is a Denver native and loves living in beautiful Colorado. While in dental school, she was the founder of the first diversity oriented, nationally based organization in the school and she currently is a member of the ADA, CDA, and MSCD and serves on the CDA New Dentist Committee as Social Chair. She is also a blogger, writer and speaker who works with IgniteDDS and Ignite DA to inspire other dental professionals and provide them resources to be the best clinicians possible. She is the AVID Healthcare Liaison for Denver Public Schools and teaches a success series integrated into the curriculum of underprivileged middle school youth to aspire them to careers in healthcare. She is also a founder/ board member for Colorado’s first South Asian Chamber of Commerce. Her passion is encouraging entrepreneurial spirit, inspiring others and she wants to dedicate her life to helping make dentists be better, healthier, more empowered people.  When not practicing dentistry she loves to get lost in a good book, cook, and do all things creative.

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