Whenever I discuss the business aspects of dental care, I always stress the importance of the primary purpose of what we are doing.
Patient care must come first. My belief is that by setting the prices of our services at the correct level we can offer the most appropriate care without compromise. Profits accrued can be divided up into rewards for the team (including the dentist) and investment back into the business to improve care for our patients.
Patients must be prepared to pay the appropriate price as long as they receive the care they need or expect. It is very clear to see, in the current world of dentistry, how the prices of our services have been massively distorted by an over-riding system that has resulted in a lose-lose situation for so many patients and dentists.
Low price advantage is absolutely fine but this low price cannot come without compromise. Low price airlines can do it because the main aim of the passengers is to reach their destination on time and not necessarily while drinking champagne.
However, in the dental world is it ethical to offer sub-standard care, such as cheap materials, because it is cheap? Is it acceptable to provide poor quality care but tell our patients that they will get better if they pay more? Shouldn’t we just offer the best?
So what will patients pay? Some of this will depend on supply and demand. Dentists are in short supply so can potentially charge more for their services and patients will have to pay or not get treatment. This may not be considered ethical but it is the nature of the economic world. However, if a practice is working from an initially low profit base this may actually benefit patients by allowing more re-investment back into improved care facilities for those willing to pay.
Another very important consideration is the perception of value applied by patients to our services. The patient may be aware they have a problem (pain, bleeding gums, halitosis, loose teeth and lack of confidence very often being obvious) or, if not, being ethically and sympathetically made aware that they have a problem (education).
Awareness will result in the solution to this problem having value in the patient’s mind. Increased value will hopefully result in the patient accepting a higher price attached to the service offered, if it is sold to them correctly. Then the appropriate level of service must be delivered.
The challenge with chronic periodontitis is that it is non-painful and non-life threatening, although for so many patients it can result in dreadful consequences. It is our ethical responsibility to advise our patients that they have the problem, inform them of its consequences, what can be done about it and what the financial investment will be.
My feeling is that the reason so many people do not want to pay for their periodontal care is not because they don’t value it – it’s because we as a profession don’t value it highly enough.