Patient finance may have caused some debate in the dental profession but according to Nicole Gerber, the administration manager of her husband Andrew's new practice on the Gold Coast, it is essentially just another way to pay.
"We offer patient finance but essentially we don't make a big deal about it," Mrs Gerber said. "It's just another payment option that we offer to patients and it's up to them whether they accept it or not.
"As we do with dental treatment, we give patients payment options and allow them to choose. We also believe that by giving them the option of an interest free or extended payment plan, we also give them the option of accepting the most suitable treatment option."
Mrs Gerber said that nowhere is it more obvious who your competition is than in the retail shopping centre environment where their practice is located. Patients are consumers who think nothing of being offered several ways to pay and they don't make the differentiation between dentistry and a new TV. The profession would hate to admit that but alas it is largely true.
"We don't make a big deal about patient finance and we don't push patients to finance their treatment or to choose treatment that isn't suitable. We present the options and the patient chooses the one that best suits their situation. The resistance has actually been minimal. Most patients see it as pretty much the same as a credit card. If they're not interested, they tell you right away and select an alternative payment method. We just treat it like a normal every day way to pay and we get a good acceptance rate with that approach.
"The biggest plus we find with patient finance is that if we provide a patient with two choices - like a root canal with a composite filling and a root canal with a crown – they will typically choose the better of the two options as the cost of treatment is now a monthly repayment rather than a lump sum. As healthcare providers, we are always torn between the duality of running a business and providing the best outcome for our patients so in essence, patient finance allows us to bridge that gap."
Mrs Gerber said it was difficult to judge the true value of offering patient finance because they have just moved into the brand new practice. "We do appear to be seeing patients committing to more long term and comprehensive treatment in a more ideal timeframe," she said, "as opposed to spreading treatment out over many months and years which was in reality just a way for them to fund the treatment out of their personal cash flow.
"We use GE Money's CareCredit and we generally offer patients three and six months interest free and the extended interest–bearing payment plans of up to three years. The fee for offering 12 months interest free is 8% so we only offer that to select patients.
"We like CareCredit because they offer interest free terms and if patients choose an interest bearing option, the interest rate is only 12.9%, which is better than most credit cards. So we are comfortable that they are not being ripped off with excessive rates and fees. The system also has the security of GE Money behind it, so we know we will get paid.
"CareCredit is also very easy to use and they provide first class training and support, both face to face and on the phone. They also provide a range of other benefits including organising management seminars and regular OnAir teleconferences which let you interact with other users."
So far Gerber Dental has put more than 30 cases through CareCredit since February, ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 and they anticipate that they will have up $500,000 worth of Care Credit treatment over the next year.
"Given it costs the practice nothing to sign up and you are fully trained on how to implement patient finance into your practice, there is no reason not to try it," Mrs Gerber said. "It's not a difficult process and you get a lot of help along the way."