Guide on How to Start and Grow Your Dental Membership Plan
by Tyson Downs
(This post was originally published April 18, 2016 and was extensively updated on December 28, 2021)
While the Affordable Care Act has made it easy for people in the United States to obtain health insurance, dental insurance is not required and often, not offered by employers. The sidelining of dental insurance often leads to the sidelining of routine dental care. Only 65.9% of adults reported seeing a dentist regularly in a 2019 survey, the last year for which numbers are available.
At Titan Web Agency, we work with dentists and dental practices every day to help them attract new patients and increase their profits. One way to do that is with a dental membership program. Keep reading to find out what you need to know.
What Are Dental Membership Programs?
The exact nature of a dental membership program will vary from one dental practice to the next, but most work as a way of making routine dental care affordable to patients without insurance.
There are many options for setting up a dental membership plan. You can attempt to set one up on your own, with the help of an online marketing firm, or with the help of an e-provider. Keep in mind that you have complete control over the plan that you develop.
Do dental membership programs work? The short answer is YES. That said, there are a lot of considerations that go into starting a membership program. Before creating a program for your dental practice, you should make sure that you understand the potential advantages of these programs.
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How Do Dental Membership Plans Work?
Dental membership plans work by providing an affordable way for uninsured patients to acquire and pay for necessary dental care. Most dental membership plans include preventive wellness care, including basic dental exams, teeth cleaning, and x-rays. For restorative and cosmetic dental procedures, the membership programs typically provide a discount to members.
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Payment schedules for dental membership plans may vary from practice to practice, but the most common setup is to bill members monthly, allowing patients to spread out the costs of routine care over the year. The monthly billing usually covers all routine care, including cleanings and examinations. Patients pay for higher-level services on an as-needed basis.
Who Benefits from a Dental Membership Plan?
Before we get into how to create and grow your dental membership plan, let’s talk about who benefits from these plans, starting with the patients.
Patients who don’t have dental insurance are likely to postpone even basic care because it doesn’t fit into their budget. They rationalize that brushing and flossing will be enough to ward off tooth decay and other issues. Joining a dental membership plan allows patients to spread out payments for routine care over the entire year, making it easier to budget and get the care they need.
Dentists and their practices benefit as well. When patients pay for a dental membership plan, you get paid for their care and steady revenue streams each month. Patients may choose your practice over others in the area because you make it easy for them to get the care they need. In other words, everybody benefits!
Who is Eligible for a Dental Membership Plan?
Dental membership plans are reserved for patients who don’t have dental insurance. A lack of dental insurance is a problem for approximately 74 million Americans, six million of whom lost their dental coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, about 22% of the population is without coverage for routine dental care.
People who have dental insurance may benefit from things like dental savings plans, which allow them to save money for more expensive procedures that may not be fully covered by their insurance.
Dental Membership Plans vs Dental Discount Plans
What is the difference between a dental membership plan and a dental discount plan? A dental membership plan is what we have described here. It is offered by a dental practice or clinic to patients, allowing them to join and spread out the costs of routine care over an entire year.
By contrast, a dental discount plan is typically offered by a third party who negotiates discounted prices for dental examinations and procedures. When someone enrolls in the plan, they pay a fee (usually an annual fee billed in advance.) When they arrive at their dentist’s office, they present a discount card and pay for services at a discounted rate negotiated by the third party that maintains the program.
Some dentists offer membership patients a discounted rate on services as well. That’s something that is decided by each dentist.
Are In-House Dental Membership Plans Legal?
Our dentist clients sometimes ask us if in-house dental membership plans are legal. They are, and there are two things we should mention.
In most states, dental membership plans are regulated by the state’s Department of Insurance. You should check to see which regulations and restrictions are in place to ensure that you are compliant with the law in your state.
It might surprise you to learn that many experts believe that dental membership programs are preferable to insurance because dental insurance does not operate the same way that medical insurance does. Many procedures are not covered and there are long waiting periods for others. Dentists must be willing to accommodate patients who require dental work to be healthy because oral health issues can also affect overall health.
4 Reasons Why Patients Prefer Dental Membership Programs
Now, let’s look at the reasons why your patients may find a dental membership program to be an attractive option. The primary purpose of starting a dental practice discount plan is to offer dental care to anyone that needs it.
Here are a few reasons why a patient may prefer a dental membership program to dental insurance:
- It provides dental care for the uninsured.
- They can sign up at any time.
- They have more control over costs.
- They have more control over the dentist they choose to see.
- There are fewer surprises when it comes to billing and what is covered.
- Membership programs are easy to understand.
- Patients are more likely to schedule regular appointments.
Here’s a closer look at some of the reasons that patients like membership programs.
1. Dental Care for The Uninsured
Those without dental coverage are less likely to visit a local dentist for regular exams and teeth cleaning. They are also more likely to put off dental appointments for minor dental issues. By the time they choose to seek out the help of a dentist, they could be facing serious dental problems, including gum disease and gingivitis.
It is estimated that in the past decade, about one in four Americans chose not to see a dentist for a dental problem because they could not afford it. This should never be an issue for patients because everyone deserves quality care.
With a dental membership program, these individuals have another option available to them. The number one reason that people avoid the dentist is that they do not have dental coverage, and a dental membership plan fills this gap in coverage.
2. Sign-Up Is Available at Any Time
Another advantage for patients is that they can sign up for a dental plan at any time. By including a sign-up form on your website, patients can register at their convenience. If you were to simply tell potential patients to contact your dental office, an overwhelming percentage of these patients would never get around to signing up.
In this age of digital marketing, no dental practice can succeed without an online presence. If you decide to set up a dental membership program, make sure that you include options for joining on your website.
You may also want to consider partnering with an e-insurance provider. These providers already have dental membership programs in place which can be adapted to suit the needs of your dental practice. This cuts down on the time and costs associated with setting up a dental plan on your own.
3. Membership Programs Are Easy to Understand
Patients will also enjoy the fact that dental membership programs are easier to understand than a typical dental insurance plan. These programs are usually straightforward and clear, and patients enjoy that they are free of complicated guidelines and restrictions.
The patient usually pays a monthly fee, and then receives specific preventive dental services and a discount on restorative or cosmetic procedures. This works similar to any other membership program that consumers regularly use, and most people are familiar with the concept. Familiarity is always beneficial when attempting to market a product or service.
4. Patients Are More Likely to Schedule Appointments
Patients that join a dental membership program are more likely to schedule their appointments. With dental insurance, the cost of the insurance is often taken directly out of their paycheck. Because they do not see the costs regularly, they may rarely think about trips to the dentist. For this reason, dental practices are often forced to be the ones to remind patients about their next checkup or exam.
With a dental membership program, patients are paying a monthly fee. When a person spends money on a service, they are going to take advantage of the benefits the service provides.
The patients who join your membership program will be likely to contact your practice for their next exam without the usual follow-up phone calls and email reminders. They will also be more willing to book an appointment when a dental issue arises instead of putting it off and allowing the issue to increase in severity.
Benefits of an In-House Dental Membership Plan
You already know that your patients will benefit if you start an in-house dental membership plan, but there are rewards for you as well. Here are some of the top benefits that you can expect from a dental discount plan:
- More control over fees and dental charges and fewer collections.
- Improved quality of care for your patients.
- Build trust and loyalty with your patients.
- Create more security for your dental practice.
- Fewer cancellations and increased case acceptance.
- Generate consistent revenue for your dental practice.
- Improve your practice valuation.
Here is some more detail about these benefits.
1. More Control Over Fees and Dental Charges
Dental membership programs provide you with more control over fees, membership prices, and the services that you offer.
Insurance companies have increased their fees. As fewer people choose to purchase dental insurance, the insurance companies need to squeeze a few extra dollars wherever possible.
With a dental membership plan, you set the prices and fees. You can decide which services to offer at discounted prices and which services are included as part of preventive dental care. You are in complete control over a dental membership plan. You will also eliminate the need for collection calls as patients come in for procedures that are included in their membership.
2. Improved Quality of Care for Your Patients
When you are in control of the dental membership plan, you can place an increased focus on the care of your patients. As previously mentioned, your patients will be more willing to book appointments and show up for their regular teeth cleaning and dental exams. This can help to prevent serious dental problems, cavities, and the spread of gum disease down the road.
A larger percentage of your patients will book appointments for preventive care, which is something that every dentist can be happy about. The goal is to increase the quality of care for your patients as much as possible.
Since you get to decide which services to include in your membership plan, you may include procedures that would not normally be included in a dental insurance plan. The increased level of control allows you to develop a plan that suits the needs of your patients and not the insurance companies.
3. Build Trust and Loyalty with Your Patients
With a dental membership program, you help establish trust and loyalty with your patients. Not only will they appreciate having the option to join your dental membership program, but by offering savings and regular preventive dental care, you are showing your patients that you care about their wellness.
Word-of-mouth advertising can go a long way towards boosting patient referrals. When your patients are happy with the service and care you provide, they will let others know about your dental membership program.
4. Create More Security for Your Dental Practice
The benefits we have already mentioned add up to more security for your dental practice. By building trust with your patients, you are establishing a secure customer base. If your patients are happy with the services you provide, you can count on them coming back for years to come.
Establishing a loyal customer base offers security for the future. Your patients will continue to rely on your services. Family members will enroll their children, who may choose to get their plan when they reach adulthood. This produces an ongoing cycle of new patients and helps you maintain a full schedule of dental appointments.
5. Dental Membership Plans Really Do Work
There's a reason that dental membership programs are so popular – they really do work. You, your dental practice, and your patients all benefit from a membership plan. The only one that misses out is the insurance companies. You will reap the benefits of patient loyalty and increased referrals, while your patients can rest easy knowing that they have access to the dental care they need.
6. Fewer Cancellations and Increased Case Acceptance
Another benefit for you is that patients who enroll in your membership plan are more likely to show up for appointments and less likely to refuse the care that you recommend for their oral health. Cancellations and no-shows are a problem for every dental practice and can cost you thousands of dollars every year. Membership programs encourage people to keep their appointments by removing the financial stress that some people feel when visiting the dentist.
The same is true of case acceptance. Every dentist has experienced the frustration of having a patient postpone or refuse care because they cannot afford it. Membership programs make it easy for dentists to provide the care that patients need, establishing trust and allowing patients to feel confident during procedures.
7. Generate Consistent Revenue for Your Dental Practice
Starting a dental membership plan means that you will have regular and predictable monthly income as patients pay their monthly fees. Smoothing out cash flow can allow you to expand your practice, hire new employees, and acquire new equipment as needed.
8. Improve Your Practice Valuation
Finally, because starting a dental membership plan makes it possible to acquire new patients quicker than ever, it is also an effective way to improve your practice valuation. While you may not have the intention of selling your practice now, it is a good thing to add to your practice’s value in the event you should decide to sell.
Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Up a Dental Membership Plan
When dentists set up dental membership plans for their patients, they make some mistakes that we see repeated. Here are six mistakes that you should do your best to avoid.
Not Setting Up a System
Running a membership program can be time-consuming if you do not set up systems to manage it. Sometimes, we see a dental practice rely on a single Excel spreadsheet to track patient enrollment, payments, and renewals. You should do whatever you can to streamline program management for your staff.
Not Automating Payments
Payments for membership plans are made monthly, which means that your staff could potentially waste a lot of time contacting patients for payments. A better approach is to require patients to enroll in automatic payments using a credit or debit card, which can save your employees hours each month.
Not Automating the Renewal Process
While renewals do not happen as often as payments, contacting patients to renew their membership requires your employees to sell the program multiple times. Instead, make automatic renewals.
Overcharging or Undercharging Patients
The purpose of a membership program is to provide patients with the necessary care and you with regular income. The only way your membership program will work is if your price is low enough to entice patients to enroll and high enough to earn you a profit even if patients take full advantage of the plan.
Not Promoting Your In-House Dental Membership Plan
Your dental membership plan will be successful only if you promote it. That means letting uninsured patients know about it and taking advantage of dental social media advertising and other online tools to let prospective patients know about it.
6. Turning Down Patients with No Insurance
Once your plan is set up, you will no longer have any reason to turn down patients who do not have dental insurance. We would argue that with payment plans and financing options, you should not be turning patients away under any circumstances, but a dental membership plan gives you a way of attracting uninsured patients.
The key is to be methodical and practical when setting up your dental membership program. That way, your staff will easily manage the various aspects of membership and patients will be eager to enroll.
Setting Up Your Dental Membership Program
It is time to review the steps necessary to set up your own in-office dental membership plan. These steps provide the best way for your dental membership plan to be a success.
Evaluate Your Practice
The first step is to evaluate your practice. Your evaluation should include asking yourself the following questions:
- How many patients am I losing each year? Has the number increased or decreased over time?
- How many uninsured patients do I have?
- How many visits do uninsured patients make?
- Do most of my uninsured patients visit my office regularly or sporadically?
- What is my average revenue per uninsured patient?
- What is my case acceptance rate? Is it lower than I want it to be?
- What can I do to get patients to accept the suggested treatment plan?
- What measures do I have in place to retain patients who lose their insurance or to attract patients without insurance?
- How much time and money am I spending each year to acquire new patients?
Answering these questions will help you get an overall picture of where your practice stands regarding uninsured patients and how you might benefit from creating an in-house membership program.
Understand Your Options
Next, you should make sure that you understand the options you have as you create your dental membership plan. Most dentists prefer to charge a monthly membership fee which differentiates in-house plans from dental savings plans, which require enrollees to pay annually.
You should also think about what to include with membership. The bare minimum would typically be to include two exams, two cleanings, and necessary x-rays. You may also want to add a discount for other services. Some dentists include a whitening procedure or a fluoride treatment, while others include one emergency procedure with membership. Including a theoretical emergency treatment is a good way to add to the perceived value of your plan. Especially when you consider that patients who receive regular dental care are far less likely to require emergency treatment than those who do not receive regular care.
Another option to consider is whether to set up a dental membership plan with the help of an e-provider. These companies already have plans in place and the marketing to reach patients. By including your practice in one of these dental plans, you can go back to focusing on your daily operations.
You can also consider working with a dental SEO company with experience helping dental practices with their marketing. They can help you reach a larger market in your area. You can target your region and set up a successful membership program that meets your needs. This can require a little more work than partnering with an e-provider, but it offers the advantage of improved marketing outreach and a greater return on investment.
Customize Your Dental Membership Plan
One of the best things about creating an in-house membership plan is that you can make it whatever you want it to be. For example, if your practice specializes in family dentistry, you might create both single and family plans to accommodate the needs of your patients.
You can also decide, as we mentioned above, which routine care to include and whether to include any extras. You could even offer tiered plans, with the basic plan covering only routine care and premium plans that include cosmetic procedures or emergencies.
Price Your Dental Membership Plan
Pricing your dental membership plan is essential because the price you charge will determine the profitability of both your plan and your practice.
First, consider which services you want to include as preventive care. The most common procedures are regular cleanings and dental exams, but you may also include x-rays.
Next, you will need to choose which services to offer at a discount. This could include all the restorative and cosmetic procedures that you offer, or it could include a specific selection of procedures.
Once you have decided which services to offer at a discount, you will have to determine the size of the discount you want to offer. You can offer varying discounts for different dental services or a flat discount across all restorative and cosmetic procedures.
Finally, you should think about the monthly fee that you will charge patients for signing up. This can vary and should be based on the financial research you perform. Consider the cost of dental insurance, the discounts you offer, and then, arrive at a figure that you feel is reasonable.
Ensure Your Dental Membership Plan is Compliant with State Law
We already mentioned that each state has its laws and regulations regarding dental membership plans. You should check with your state’s Department of Insurance to understand your obligations and to ensure that your program is compliant with state law.
Train Your Team to Promote Your Dental Membership Plan
Finally, you will need to train your team to promote your membership plan. They should have a script to explain the plan to new patients. We also recommend having an option on your dental website for patients to sign up for the plan to increase enrollment. When patients have the option to sign up at their leisure, they will be more willing to enroll. Remember that you will need to figure out how to collect data and supply patients with confirmation of their enrollment. This is another area where an online marketing team can help establish your discount plan.
How to Market & Grow Your Dental In-Office Membership Plan
The last step is to market and grow your membership plan. Here are some methods to try.
Direct Mail Marketing
While direct mail marketing might seem old-fashioned in a world where digital marketing is the norm, it is still an effective way to promote your practice. We suggest sending dental marketing postcards to any uninsured patients, particularly those who have not been into your office recently. You may also want to buy a mailing list and send postcards to others in your area who may need dental care.
In-Office Counter Displays
One of the simplest ways to let people know about your dental membership program is to create signs and displays and place them in your waiting area. New patients who come in, as well as existing patients, will see the signs and may ask about and enroll in your program.
Email marketing has a high ROI and is an easy and affordable way to reach out to your patients to let them know about your new membership plan. You may want to consider a drip dental email marketing campaign where you send out multiple emails to explain the benefits of membership.
If your practice has a social media presence, then you should use it to promote your membership plan. Touting the benefits of membership to your audience on Facebook or Instagram can be an effective method of boosting enrollment in your program.
Some people consider website pop-ups to be a nuisance but they are effective. Adding a pop-up that displays when a patient hits the back button or visits your service pages can let people know about your membership plan and allow them to enroll.
Retargeted Display Ads
Ad retargeting offers dental practices the chance to re-engage people who have visited their website without booking an appointment. You can use retargeting to let those people know about the benefits of your membership program.
Finally, ask your patients and staff to talk to the people they know about your membership program. You can loop membership referrals into your regular referral program if you have one, or you can make it a separate entity. Either way, encouraging people to talk about the benefits of membership is an effective way to get people to enroll.
Working with an experienced dental SEO company can allow you to make the most of your marketing and reach your target audience.
Grow Your Practice Today with a Dental Membership Plan!
If you're looking for ways to increase the success of your dental practice while continuing to offer exceptional care to your patients, you may want to consider creating a dental membership plan. They are simple to set up and offer significant benefits for both you and your patients. Titan Web Agency has years of experience with dental marketing, and we are here to help. Contact us today to schedule your FREE consultation!
About the Author
Tyson Downs is the founder of Titan Web Agency, a company specializing in marketing for dental professionals. With an impressive track record of working with over 100 dental practices, Tyson has a deep understanding of the unique marketing needs within the dental industry. His expertise has helped numerous dental practices flourish by meeting and surpassing their revenue goals and established him as a thought leader in healthcare marketing. His insights and strategies have been featured in esteemed dental publications, including the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. Before dedicating his career to helping dental professionals thrive through effective marketing, Tyson honed his skills in SEO and web design as a freelancer, while also gaining valuable experience in the corporate sector. As an alumnus of Brigham Young University, he brings a strong educational background to his entrepreneurial endeavors. Outside of his professional life, Tyson is a devoted father of five, who cherishes time spent with his family, especially when they're all enjoying America's pastime on the baseball field.