Dentistry’s awakening into the world of commercial business is one that dentists are reacting to in different ways. But for those in the private sector the focus on attracting new patients and increasing the uptake of treatment plans have been important factors since the early years of the independent sector.
As the profession faces what could be an uncertain post-election and pre-contract 18 months, it is undeniable that those dentists concentrating on the business aspects of their practice are likely to find themselves ahead of the competition. Although the new contract will not directly affect private practices, its nature and hue will certainly determine its impact. Any capitation-based remuneration for NHS dentists will create a more competitive market across all types of provision – ultimately affecting the private sector, albeit indirectly.
So the need to provide treatments, service and in fact a whole dental ‘experience’ that is attractive to patients is growing in importance and preparing for these likely changes will make those practices that do prepare best placed to deal with any future unpredictability.
Optimise treatment uptake
A key focus for private practices has always been the desire to provide treatment in such a way that uptake is ethically optimised. To do this effectively requires the practice to put in place a variety of practical stages, of which patient finance is just one.
There is an increasing understanding amongst dental professionals running either wholly or partially private practices that offering patients payment options is a way of encouraging treatment uptake. By removing the most commonly unspoken objection on the basis of cost and replacing it with the benefit of affordability, the dentist makes it easier for the patient to say yes.
I have been involved in retail finance for almost 20 years and the benefits of consumer finance remain as clear to me now as they were when my career started. The logistics of providing finance might have changed, from paper to electronic transactions, and the speed of approval has vastly improved, but the basic premise is as legitimate now as it was then. Giving people the wherewithal to purchase products and services immediately and pay for them over a period of time is something that is an integral part of meeting consumer demand.
The truth is that with regard to finance, dentistry is just another retail market. Many people mistakenly think that because dentistry is part of the healthcare industry and affiliated to the NHS, that the practice isn’t a business – it is! And it is an unfortunate fact of life that the wider market and many patients don’t hold the same view. However, changing market conditions are on the horizon and the need to find an ethical funding solution that helps dentistry be more affordable for patients is gaining momentum.
It has become clear to me that creating a solution in which a dentist can offer low cost finance for one-off treatments will mean more patients can afford to take up treatment, with all the obvious benefits for the practice and patient.
The usual process is that a patient visits the dentist, the dentist recommends treatment and the patient leaves with a written treatment quotation, which includes an indication of any cost and details of the different payment options available; normally cash or credit card. If the patient has the cash or enough available credit, they might proceed with treatment. Few dentists also have consumer credit facilities and if they adhere to the appropriate financial regulations, they can offer the option to spread the cost of treatment over a 12-month period or longer.
There has been a cultural change over the past 50 years in which the population’s willingness to save has been undermined. Few people have the attitude of, ‘I really like that, I’ll save up for it and buy it when I have the money.’ Consumers want goods and services immediately and that is as true for elective dental treatments as it is for any other type of product. Chrysalis Finance provides specialist funding for the dental and medical market; to make it easy and straightforward for the majority of dentists to offer a credit option that means significantly more patients will take up treatment without worrying about the immediate cost.
The reason we are able to make it easier for dentists to sell credit is that our systems are fully online, so when applying for credit for individual patients there is a process that we control. Chrysalis Finance is committed to being an ethical and responsible company and are fully regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, we understand and check the affordability and appropriateness of lending as well as check to ensure the patient clearly understands the contract into which they are entering.
Speeding up and simplifying the approval process also improves the likelihood of the patient taking up treatment and the Chrysalis system is designed to give instant decisions. The online process can be completed in the surgery or at home at the click of a button, with most being approved within seconds. As a dentist you are able to say, ‘yes this is approved’ whilst they are still in the practice and because of this there is demonstrably a much higher take up of treatment.
As well as controlling the application and approval process, Chrysalis Finance also provides generic advertising material and will review a practice’s website ensuring compliance of all promotional material. If the practice wants to pursue direct advertising we will offer useful input and check the advertising complies with regulations. We have a raft of marketing material for dentists and practice managers to use, which employs softer language to communicate the benefits of payment options. In short, we provide all the tools necessary to help the appropriate people in each practice feel confident talking to patients about finance within the correct compliance and regulations.
The key to running a successful private practice is to get patients to uptake treatment plans and it is proven that there is a significantly higher chance of them doing this if the transaction can be completed whilst the patient is in the practice. So taking away any financial objection is clearly a major benefit.
The ability to offer payment choice without the worry of needing to be directly authorised by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) and without the concerns of compliance is a real benefit to dentists. In addition the fact that the practice receives full payment within 48 hours of a patient being approved massively improves the practices cashflow.
Offering patient finance is simply another way of extending the choices you offer your patients and is a sure-fire method of helping to build a successful private or mixed practice in a new and more competitive environment.
Chris Baldwin is national sales director of Chrysalis Finance. For more information visit Chrysalis Finance at The Dentistry Show 2015 stand E55. www.chrysalisfinance.com