5 Minutes to Better Benefits Communications

Patients are confused about dental benefits. They think dental benefits work like health insurance, and they have extremely high expectations about what will be covered.

At the same time, the dental team knows all of the ins and outs of dental benefits. This may sound like a good thing, but it can backfire: patients may feel overwhelmed by rapid-fire information or intimidated by insider jargon.

In just five minutes, this read will help clarify what to say (and what not to say) when communicating dental benefits details to patients.

“These are benefits as opposed to insurance.” It can be worthwhile to share with patients a simple and upbeat explanation of the difference. Louise Norris, a contributor to the website healthinsurance.org got it right: Dental benefits “differ from dental insurance mainly because they don’t pay any dental expenses for you. Instead, they provide discounted prices from participating dentists. There are generally no deductibles, no waiting periods and no annual maximums.” I also like the simplicity of, “Dental benefits are like a savings plan for the patient. If you saved each month the money you pay the plan provider, you would break even on paying for your dental care out-of-pocket.” Simplicity is key.

“We are happy to navigate this for you.” A patron walks into a restaurant and orders the finest steak on the menu. The restaurateur carefully explains how the cows are raised, what they are fed, the slaughter, the processing of the meat, the delivery of the raw steak to the restaurant and the precise way in which it was prepared. The patron is disgusted and leaves the restaurant. A second patron walks into the restaurant and orders the finest steak on the menu. The restaurateur isn’t available, so the maître d' seats the patron then promptly brings out from behind closed doors a perfectly prepared, sizzling steak. The Elmer Wheeler old adage goes, “Sell the sizzle not the steak.” Less is more when explaining dental benefits. Wheeler encouraged communicators to appeal to the senses and emotions. Talk about how easy the process will be for the patient since you will handle it for them, how you will see to it that they will be reimbursed the maximum possible, and, where you can on larger cases, offer to pre-submit the claim and provide an estimate of what the patient can expect out of pocket. Take it a step further by offering a payment plan for out-of-pocket expenses.

“We can show you a better alternative.” (Not, “We are no longer accepting your plan.”) From the practice’s perspective, there are plenty of reasons to drop plans. But from the patient’s perspective, it can be perceived as disappointing or even catastrophic. They may have been patients of the practice for years or even generations, and if they think dental benefits work like health insurance, it can be an instant relationship killer. Consider this: you never even have to mention that you dropped the plan. (And certainly, don’t send a canned letter announcing it that way.) Instead, work with your team or marketer to document at least 2-3 ways that the patient can stay. For example:

  1. Let us help you get on a better plan
  2. Pay up-front and get a credit toward more services
  3. Finance through CareCredit (or similar provider)

These communications should present to the patient new opportunities and the practice saying, “Yes!” – not the other way around.

At some point, certainly, you will need to tell the patient that you no longer accept the plan. If you have any intention of keeping the patient this should be a face-to-face conversation.

The boldface phrases outlined above work face-to-face and can also be expanded into text for the practice's website and marketing materials. Communicate up-front, clearly and often and both the patient and the dental team will benefit.