One dentist’s quest to succeed in operating a different kind of practice
Back in 2001, I bought a one-operatory, run down practice from an elderly dentist in rural Oregon. Most of the practice’s existing patients were insurance-based, had low dental IQs and very little value for dentistry. Those with insurance would only accept the treatment that insurance paid for, and those without coverage generally refused most restorative treatment due to out-of-pocket costs. I saw this pattern emerging in my practice and wanted to find a different way to practice – to create something that would help my patients feel that they could achieve oral health – and to help me get past these objections.
Understanding Consumer Behavior
I came across a study on buyer behavior from Harvard University called “The Fee-Savings Link”, which talked about the best practices from other industries that had made them successful and decided to apply what big business knows about consumer behavior to my practice. Professors from Harvard & Columbia Business Schools conducted this study to evaluate the power of membership-based retailers. It found that while many consumers equate membership plans with savings, they actually encourage consumers to spend more on a particular product or service, including health & wellness services like dentistry.
The study also demonstrated that membership fees seemingly “unlocked” consumer spending; because customers’ perceived added value in these members-only stores, they actually bought more. In the case of a dental practice, this would mean higher case acceptance – and a corresponding increase in collections and decrease in overhead. Plus, the study discussed how membership-based retailers also make a higher per-customer profit by bundling products and services together. Having patients prepay for bundled services, it followed, would strongly incentivize them to be more compliant with treatment recommendations and suggested recall intervals.
Most impressively, the Harvard study showed that while consumers expected lower prices in membership-based stores, they also considered these retailers more exclusive, so the perceived value of products and services didn’t decrease. This is why manufacturers allow Costco to sell their brand-name items at discounted prices; customers believe that their membership gives them access to exclusive discounts.
Significant Practice Growth – on Your Terms
The ramifications for me and my dentist peers was clear: being able to promote my practice and my services to patients without discounting my own value was a problem I’d wrestled with for years. Finally, a solution was presenting itself.
Ultimately, the result of all this research – and my ensuing internal debate – was the creation of Quality Dental Plan in my own practice. I created QDP as an in-office dental savings plan that could help me provide care to members of my community who were interested in comprehensive dental care but felt like it was inaccessible because they did not have traditional dental insurance benefits.
Soon, with the framework of QDP in place, I had built my practice up to an eight operatory practice with a partner, a full-time associate and three hygienists, and my production was through the roof. I decided right then and there that if it could work for me, it could work for other dentists – and that they shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I knew from first-hand experience that you can bring in patients who previously couldn’t say yes to dentistry and help make it affordable for them without trimming your own profits or lining the pockets of insurance companies.