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Communication is the key

Successful patient financing requires educating team, patients

Editor's note: This is the last in a three-part series educating members about patient financing, focusing on how to implement a patient financing program in the dental practice.

Communication with patients and the dental practice staff is the key to implementing a successful patient financing program.

The ADA Council on Dental Practice believes knowledgeable patients make for people armed to make educated decisions about their health care. This education starts with the dental team, who should be able to inform patients about how the financing program works, the credit terms they are agreeing to and their payment responsibilities.

These conversations should take place before the examination and treatment and fee discussion, and patients should understand they have the opportunity to pay for their services over time. Understanding all of these concepts is critical so the patient has complete information when debating whether to decline or delay care because of cost concerns.

"Integrating patient care financing into your practice can have a dramatic effect, but it is a team effort," said Dr. Steve Glenn, CDP member.

Allowing patients to finance their bills through a third-party company allows dentists to be paid for their services in a timely fashion. It also allows patients the time to spread out the payments to avoid a huge strain on their budgets.

"It's all about effective communication, both from the staff listening as well as being informative to patients so the patient can get the optimal treatment acceptance," said Keith Drayer, vice president of Henry Schein Financial Services. HSFS works with the Citi Health Card program by decreasing the sales and marketing costs of the patient financing process for Citi, Mr. Drayer said. This results in lower costs for processing patient financing in doctors' offices than working directly with Citi, according to Mr. Drayer.

The process can work similarly to a department store credit card, and patients can find out on the spot how much credit they're allotted.

Sandy Creamer, office manager for Dr. Mark Zust, CDP member and general dentist in St. Peters, Mo., helped implement a patient financing system through CareCredit.

"Honestly, I truly believe that it's made a difference between case acceptance and case rejection," Ms. Creamer said. The option has benefitted patients by allowing them more time to spread out the cost of care instead of forcing them to decline procedures or pay for everything in one lump sum, she said.

CareCredit's application is brief, has few questions and patients can complete it on the computer or over the phone, she said. According to CareCredit, it only approves applications from credit-worthy individuals.

Dr. Zust's office offers six- and 12-month financing packages with zero percent interest, Ms. Creamer said. Similar to other consumer credit offers, interest charges may be applied if the balance is not paid within the payment period. The dental staff should make this clear to applicants at the time they apply. If patients still have questions, the staff should encourage them to ask the patient financing company directly.

CareCredit is the largest program in the patient financing sector among dentists and the only patient financing company endorsed by ADA Business Resources, a program brought to you by ADA Business Enterprises, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the ADA. Dentists who offer financing through CareCredit pay a percentage of the transaction to CareCredit in the form of a merchant fee. The merchant fee is deducted from the transaction amount, and the remaining balance of the treatment fee financed is paid to the doctor. The doctor receives no other payments from CareCredit.

The ADA House of Delegates last year passed Resolution 84H, which directs the ADA to "provide information about patient financing programs that members may utilize in determining whether to offer a financing program to patients." CDP has taken up this charge, resolving to educate members about what patient financing programs have to offer.

Once dentists have asked all the right questions and selected the program they want to offer, it's time to implement it. The process begins with meeting with the dental team.

Most patient financing programs will provide basic materials and training on completing a patient credit application and processing transactions. The company may also have scripts and role-playing examples for how to discuss financing with patients. If the company offering the program doesn’t provide these examples, ask.

Once you have the resources, hold an orientation meeting with your dental team, emphasizing how the financing program will benefit patients, the practice and the team. It may be helpful to assign a team member to lead the program.

To best communicate these concepts, the dental team can update the practice's financial policy and patient payment agreement form to include financing as an option along with cash and major credit cards. Patient financing information can also be displayed around the office, especially in the areas used to discuss treatment and fees. Information can also be added to new patient or welcome kits, the practice website, or letters to patients.

Dental team members should keep in mind that patients may be uncomfortable saying they can't afford to pay for treatment all at once, so the team should be the one to present the options. If there are further questions, the dental team should encourage patients to call the financing company for more information. A copy of the patient's signed transaction slip, including the loan details, should be kept in their file should questions arise.

The process of communicating with patients in an efficient and effective manner will allow them to receive the dental care they choose and deserve.