The perception that being a full fee-for-service practice is the golden ticket to a great business is a widespread myth in our industry. “All my cash-flow problems would be solved if I didn’t have to deal with insurance!” Come on, you know you’ve thought that at least once.
I get it. I’m a practice owner (four locations in fact), and I weep over the write-offs each month. I’m also a marketer, and know that the dollars written off represent a small portion of our revenue. More importantly, those dollars represent care provided to patients. My marketing brain tells me that while I tend to feel like an angst-ridden teenager when insurance is brought up maybe, just maybe, I should pay attention to the behaviors of my consumers.
You can swim against the tide – but it is tough
Before you hit the comment button and tar and feather me, read on. I’m not saying that YOU have to accept insurance fees as part of your business plan. I am saying that smart business people develop a plan based on consumer behavior and the economic realities of their area. For most of us, we get the pretty little combination of the insured and the not so insured. While I would much rather never deal with another insurance agency again, accepting the reality has led me to the conclusion that I need to take steps to support my community’s oral health regardless of benefits.
Here’s the tideline
Eighty-one percent of individuals with dental benefits visit a dentist twice a year or more, while only 34 percent of uninsured individuals reported the same frequency of seeking preventive care. People without dental benefits are more likely to have extractions and dentures, and less likely to have restorative procedures (fillings, crowns, root canals).
The life raft – market toward the non-insured
Brilliant idea! We just established that 66% of people without insurance will likely only step foot in your practice when they are in pain, seeking to extract the offending body part, and replacing it with Tupperware! How then do we attract these folks to step foot in our office when they are in need?
These consumers are not making “logical” healthcare choices, so be prepared to pull a few emotional heartstrings with your advertising. Here are the facts being ignored by this population:
- 51 million school hours are missed each year because of dental-related illnesses.
- More than 164 million work hours are lost each year because of dental problems.
- Less than ½ of Americans recognize that oral health affects overall health.
You can chip away at this by hosting community lectures, speaking at Rotary, Lions, and other civic organizations. Yup, this type of marketing is once again on the rise.
Combine this with a robust presence on the web and you’ll have the start to a cost-effective marketing campaign. Screw up your courage and pull out your camera. You’ll need to create educational, humorous, compassionate videos. Since Google purchased YouTube, this is your #1 channel for connecting your message to the world.
Hate Clear Choice® commercials? Likely so if you are not a Clear Choice provider. While I won’t debate the merits of their treatment plans here, suffice it to say, they present a compelling story that represents their target demographic, and they position the doctors as compassionate experts ready to help. Does your marketing do that?
Making it to shore in one piece
The love-hate relationship between providers and insurance companies is a reality. There are three keys to successfully balancing the insurance, non-insurance dilemma:
- Think of the dollars written off as part of your marketing budget. Most dentists spend 1.4-2% on overall marketing and produce approximately $700,000 per year. Increase your overall budget, likely up to 8% of revenues depending on the competitiveness of your area and start attracting those patients who so desperately need your care. Your PPO write-offs, if well managed, may represent 3-4% of this budget. Match those write-off dollars, and more importantly your time, to invest in community-based and web marketing. Target increasing revenues to $1million+ (if you are over a million, then work towards a 20-30% increase in revenues over a 12-18 month period of time).
- Be prepared to expand your service mix to include surgical extractions, implant placement, implant retained dentures, CAD-CAM and other technology so that you can conveniently and cost effectively deliver the services most needed and desired by this population.
- Provide easy access to credit. Third party lenders set the credit bar very high to mitigate risk. This creates a situation where less than ½ of your patients will be granted the funds needed to complete care. Offering in-house strategies, like Compassionate Finance, or membership plans will go a long way in helping your patients find the funding needed for care.
In the early 80’s we tagged our patient records for the ‘few’ patients who had insurance. With health insurance reform, and the trend for businesses to cut dental benefits, we may revert to that again in the near future. Take steps today to support your community’s oral health regardless of benefits. Your patients and your accountant will thank you.
Statistics for this article were collated from various sources by DeltaDental.com. Victoria Peterson is not affiliated with this organization in any manner.