There is no doubt that there is huge demand for orthodontic treatment from people wishing to improve their smile, with particular interest in the range of ‘invisible’ tooth straightening options now available in the marketplace.
There seems to be no restriction on the age range of people looking to benefit, from parents seeking treatments for their children right through to people approaching or past retirement age who wish to benefit from an improved smile – something they may previously only have dreamed of.
However, we know from experience that many people do not proceed with treatments and, very often, the reason for not doing so will be the cost and their inability to afford it over a short period of time.
Advantages of finance
Many orthodontic practices are already seeing the benefits of offering their patients the ability to spread the cost, although others have not yet realised the potential of doing so. The difference that offering finance can make is significant, although, to have its greatest effect, it should not be considered in isolation, but rather as part of the overall package offered by the practice. For those in the early stages of offering orthodontic treatment, the initial task will be to promote the new service. Ideally use a variety of advertising media (website, local advertising, word of mouth etc), ensuring that advertisements highlight the benefits of the treatment being offered – unless a patient is convinced by the benefits of the treatment, they are unlikely to proceed, no matter how affordable it is made for them.
For more established orthodontists, the ability to spread the cost can be just what some patients have been waiting for. It may be a worthwhile exercise to contact patients who have recently left to ‘think about it’ and make them aware of new payment options, as this can lead to treatment uptake.
Another way of promoting orthodontic treatment locally is by means of an open evening or open day. To be successful, they need to be planned in advance with confirmed bookings for the day – offering some form of incentive or special offer can help.
A well-organised open day can reap significant benefits that will be enhanced by offering finance. One of our supporting practices recently agreed 16 treatments at one open day of which eight (50%) were arranged on finance. Another practice arranged 15 of which 10 (67%) were arranged with finance – bringing obvious benefits to the practice, as well as having a number of happy patients who could arrange the treatment they wanted rather than leaving it until another day.
Increasing treatment uptake
The uptake of treatment plans will vary significantly from one practice to another. From our experience of working with orthodontic practices, on average treatment plan take up of around 40% increases to 60% once finance is offered.
On this basis, if your practice were to receive five enquiries per week the treatment plan take-up could increase by one case per week, which, at an average of £3,500 per treatment, could increase your turnover by £182,000 per year (see graph on next page). What difference could that make to your practice?
Some practices achieve considerably more than this on finance – we work with orthodontic practices who arrange treatment in excess of £35,000 on finance every month – more than £400,000 per year. It makes a tremendous difference to their overall figures.
Offering finance effectively
A small number of practices offer finance options to their patients by spreading the cost on an in-house basis. However, in addition to a number of legal issues that can result in the practice being in breach of the Consumer Credit Act, they run the risk of a patient not paying (and thus incurring a bad debt), as well as having to expend resources chasing up payments etc.
These problems can be overcome by working with an independent finance provider who can arrange schemes for general and specialist practices with various options to make them attractive to both the practice and the patient. Not only will working with a specialist provider overcome the uncertainties that many practices might have in offering finance, but there will be the added benefits of an upfront payment at commencement of the treatment and the credit risk being taken by the lender.
Ideally, you need a scheme that offers flexibility of options to enable the patient to spread the cost in line with their budget – when you have that in place you remove one of the major hurdles to any sizeable treatment proceeding.
Reasons for not offering finance often revolve around a number of concerns held by the dentist/orthodontist that, in reality, are unfounded:
Q. Is offering finance really necessary? Most people can pay cash.
A. Generally private orthodontic treatment is in the price range £1,000 to £5,000 or more and, whilst some will happily afford this, others will have difficulty doing so. This can be disappointing for the practice where potential business can be seen to be lost and frustrating for the patient who might wish to benefit from the treatment, but who cannot proceed because of the cost. Spreading that cost can make it far more affordable for many.
Q. Aren’t people suspicious of finance? Do I want my practice associated with it?
A. In the retail environment finance is commonplace and accepted by retailers and customers alike. Most people get paid monthly (from a salary or pension) so monthly repayments suit them.
Q. Will we need to ask a lot of personal questions about our patients’ finances?
A. No. The application form can be completed by the patient and, with most finance providers, there is the facility for the patient to apply directly to the finance provider if they prefer to do so.
Q. Won’t I be encouraging patients to fall into debt?
A. No. People will make their own decisions with regards to how they wish to finance their purchases. In the same way that you may finance the purchase of a car, a new kitchen or a holiday, they might wish to finance their treatment. If you work with an independent finance provider, the lender will carry out credit checks to ensure the finance is affordable for the applicant.
Q. Is the process difficult?
A. No – it shouldn’t be. Finance providers will provide you with the information you need to comply with the Consumer Credit Act and the processing of finance applications is very straightforward.
Q. Isn’t it expensive to offer?
A. No. In the case of interest-free finance, the practice bears the lender’s cost and over a 12-month term this will equate to around 9% of the sum financed. However, it must surely be better to pocket 91% of the treatment cost than none!
Brian Carter has been a director at Dental Finance since 2001. The company provides consumer finance facilities, principally in the dental sector. It offers finance plans to increase treatment take up, patient satisfaction and improve practice profitability. Previously, Brian worked at Barclays Bank and then First National Bank in various management roles. He is also an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (ACIB).