Original article, published in Dentistry Today, Sept. 17, 2021

Millions of people can’t afford dental care, and the consequences are devastating for consumers and dental practices alike.

According to the United States Census Bureau, “Adults ages 19 to 34 had the highest uninsured rates of any age group in the United States.” In part, this explains why more than a quarter of adults aged 20-44 live with untreated dental caries, and 35 percent of adults over 18 haven’t visited a dentist in the past year.

Meanwhile, according to an Accenture healthcare consumer survey, younger people are less likely to find value in traditional healthcare models than their contemporaries. Interestingly, this isn’t just a young person’s problem. Nearly 50 percent of Americans over 65 lack traditional dental insurance and haven’t visited the dentist in the past year.

With dental practice revenues expected to drop by 20 percent in 2021, new dental solutions can cater to these consumers, helping practices thrive even in a challenging environment. Specifically, providing dental consumers with transparent pricing, compelling payment models, and personalized patient insights can drive revenues and improve dental outcomes.

#1 Pricing Transparency

The healthcare sector is experiencing a reckoning with pricing with profound implications for dental practices.

For instance, a novel federal law brought pricing transparency to hospital patients, requiring hospitals to post the prices negotiated with insurance companies. This reflects shifting consumer sentiment that views healthcare as a consumer good subject to the same price efficiencies that drive other sectors, making products and services more affordable for more people.

Dental practices can attract and retain consumers by getting ahead of this trend, offering unparalleled pricing transparency that allows more people to select and pursue the services they want or need.

As one industry professional explains, “Diversifying who you do business with can help grow a dental practice too. Diversifying supplier options has a few great benefits to dental practices, but first and foremost is transparency.”

Embracing price transparency cultivates trust within patient communities, and, when paired with novel payment structures, allows consumers to choose the procedures that matter most to their oral health.

#2 Subscription-based Payment Options

Subscription-based payment options, powered by a round of tech startups, allow dental practices to couple pricing transparency with unique payment models that cater to younger and older generations unable to attain employer-sponsored healthcare or Medicare, respectively. That’s why several large dental service organizations, including Heartland Dental, Smile Brands Inc., MB2 Dental, NADG, and many more offer dental subscription plans to their patients.

Subscription-based payment options don’t have to replace existing insurance payment models, but they can supplement these offerings, allowing dental practices to reach more patients on their terms.

In addition, practices can consider offering professionally administered membership plans with exclusive member pricing arrangements, earned rewards, and other financial incentives that encourage people to regularly invest in their oral health.

While the particular member fees and discounts will look different for each dental practice, membership plans create uniquely personal and financial connections between dental practices and consumers, encouraging loyalty and enhancing profitability.

#3 Personalized Consumer Experience

Today’s consumers expect a personal and connected experience in every context, and dental providers should work to meet those expectations with their digital platforms.

For starters, create member dashboards that provide patients with easy access to their dental care priorities while allowing them to self-schedule or communicate with a team member using live chat functionality. Meanwhile, practices can capitalize on consumers’ mobile-first mentality, providing push notifications and other features that increase engagement and drive revenue growth.

Most importantly, a personalized consumer experience is about communication, which undergirds any thriving dental practices. As the American Dental Association (ADA) reminds practices, “Your ability to communicate with patients impacts their perception of your practice. Managing that perception is critical to providing patients with ethical, personalized, high-quality care that maintains, or improves, their oral health and their overall health and well-being.”

Digital platforms provide an easy and accessible way for practices to personalize the consumer experience, enhancing communication and patient outcome along the way.

Conclusion

Last year, dental practice revenue declined by six percent as millions of people lost their employer-sponsored health insurance, delayed semi-annual appointments, and reprioritized dental procedures as part of their overall healthcare spending. Now, dental practices can provide a compelling opportunity to re-engage with these consumers while simultaneously appealing to a new generation and an older cohort of dental consumers ready for new solutions.