Dental costs are causing 19 per cent of the population to delay treatment according to a recent survey by Get Dental Plans Limited. This is not the first survey with such findings. The percentages might vary but the message is always the same - a significant number of patients do not proceed with dental treatments because of the cost and their inability to pay in one amount.
This is obviously disappointing for patients who are shown the treatment available to resolve their dental problems only to find they are unable to afford it. It is also frustrating for dentists when their treatment plan is not accepted – not only do patients walk away untreated but up to a fifth of their turnover is lost.
No valid pitfalls
In addition, practices undoubtedly miss out on potential new patients interested in specific treatments (particularly orthodontic and implant treatments) but reluctant to enquire because they know that paying in one amount will be beyond them.
The answer is for practices to offer finance at low or zero interest. Then why don’t they all do it? Because a number of myths have grown up around offering finance, myths which I’m happy to dispel here.
The ‘licence’ is expensive. Not so! It is now possible to offer interest-free finance for less than 12 months without obtaining any form of licence or authorisation and so no initial cost. For longer terms and to offer interest-bearing finance, Financial Conduct Authority authorisation is required but the application fee is only £100 with an annual fee for most of just £145 – easily recouped through increased treatment plan take-up.
We lose money whenever we offer finance. Incorrect. It is true to say that whenever a practice offers interest free or low cost finance to their patients a few per cent will be deducted to cover the cost (generally for 12 months’ interest free the cost is around 8%). However, many of these treatments would not otherwise have gone ahead, the practice has gained 92% income rather than having lost 8% (or indeed 100% if the treatment plan is refused).
Everyone will want interest-free finance and that will cost us. That’s not the case. If people have the money available for treatment most will pay for it. The finance cases are generally those who might otherwise leave the practice ostensibly to ‘think about it’ but who are unlikely to return.
Setting up and administering finance is difficult and time consuming. Oh no it isn’t! A range of straightforward processing options are normally available to suit the preferences of the practice owner and staff.
The benefits of offering finance
- An increase in the number of treatment plans accepted – benefiting both patients and the practice.
- An ability to attract new patients through advertising the advantages of spreading the cost. An advertisement for a dental implant costing (say) £2,000 will get a better response if it is promoted as ‘from less than £10 a week’.
- A reduction in surgery down time (think how much does that costs).
- An improved cash flow – finance treatments are paid out at commencement of the treatment.
The benefits of offering finance are all too clear when looking at other consumer-driven markets, whether it be cars, home improvements, furniture or electrical goods or insurance.
Private dentistry is no different and all of the larger corporates together with many independent practices have a finance facility available.
If you are still thinking about it, perhaps now is the time to get started!
Brian Carter is a director of Financing First Limited t/a Dental Finance which he set up with partners in 2001.