20 Surefire Strategies to Increase Dental Case Acceptance Rate Without Being Pushy
by Tyson Downs
*Originally published December 2, 2016, Updated February 2, 2021.
The ideal dental patient comes in for a cleaning every six months. With regular, professional care most adults can expect to have healthy teeth and little need for expensive dental treatments. And yet, low dental case acceptance rates are a common problem in every dental practice.
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According to a CDC survey from 2019, only 64.9% of adults in the United States reported having visited a dentist in the past year. The numbers are higher for children, hovering at just under 85%. These numbers suggest that approximately 31.6% of adults and 16.9% of children have untreated dental caries.
At Titan Web Agency, we work with dental practices every day. New patient acquisition is one of our focuses and we have proven strategies that can help with increasing case acceptance rates.
What Causes Patients to Reject Dental Treatment Plans?
Regular dental care is essential and yet a significant percentage of Americans don't go to the dentist regularly or they may even actively avoid dental treatment. There are several reasons why people reject dental treatment plans.
The first is a lack of insurance. According to the National Health Interview Survey, only 50.2% of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 have dental insurance. Since Medicare doesn't cover dental care, estimates are that 37 million people over the age of 65 don't have dental coverage. Some of the people who lack dental coverage simply don't have the funds to pay for dental care.
Even among patients who do have dental insurance, money can be a factor, particularly when extensive treatment is required. Cleanings may be fully covered, but a patient who requires root canals or dental surgery may be asked to pay 50% of the bill out of pocket. Cost is undeniably a factor in the refusal of treatment.
Fear of dental treatments and fear of pain can also play a role. Dentistry has come a long way, but older patients may have had negative experiences that make them fearful of getting treatment. In the same vein, people who have avoided going to the dentist may worry that they'll be at the receiving end of a lecture if they make an appointment.
Dentists can do a lot to ease the fears and anxieties of new patients by creating a calm environment and communicating clearly about the patient's concerns. Patient acceptance is essential to avoid more serious problems in the future and it's up to both dentists and their employees to do everything they can to make the patient comfortable.
20 Strategies to Help Practices Quickly Increase Case Acceptance
Now that you understand why people might reject dental treatment, let's talk about some of the things that dentists can do to make sure people get the dental care they need.
1. Conduct a Pre-Consultation Interview
On a busy day, a dentist may treat 10 or more patients. It can be difficult for them to get to know new patients in a meaningful way or to learn about potential barriers to case acceptance.
One solution is to conduct a pre-consultation interview with the patient. Before the patient sees the dentist, the treatment coordinator should sit down with them and learn about them. The interview is an opportunity to ask about previous treatment and dental experiences and to determine if the patient is anxious.
By having your treatment coordinator talk to the patient before the consultation, you can be sure that you have the information necessary to build rapport with the patient and reassure them that they can trust you to provide excellent, pain-free care.
2. Optimize Dental Treatment Plan Presentation
The way you present a dental treatment plan to a patient can have a big impact on your case acceptance rate. Whether you do the presentation yourself or have a treatment coordinator do it, you must give careful thought to the process.
Start by conducting a critical analysis of your presentation technique. If you make presentations yourself, consider recording them or writing them out to get an idea of your style, wording, and how patients respond. If your staff members are making presentations on your behalf, you may want to observe them and see how effective they are to identify areas of improvement.
When you've known a patient a short amount of time, it's essential to build rapport and trust as quickly as possible. You can't expect someone who has known you for only an hour or so to buy into a treatment plan that's going to cost them thousands of dollars. You must be intentional about your case presentation.
Whenever possible, use images and videos to help patients visualize the impact the treatment will have on their smile. Before and after pictures are remarkably effective.
You might want to create a dental treatment script for your case presentation to encourage clarity and ensure your staff covers everything, including:
- Procedure details
- Benefits of treatment
- Length of treatment
- Cost of treatment
- Payment options
A sample script might sound like this:
Mrs. Smith, you have some needs that go beyond the broken tooth that brought you here today. Your gums are inflamed and that could lead to damage to the bone surrounding your teeth. After we take care of your broken tooth, the next step is to schedule you for an appointment with one of our hygienists, who will perform a cleaning of your teeth and show you how to prevent inflammation in the future. You have three teeth with broken-down fillings and we'll need to address those as well. We can work with you to come up with a timetable that suits you. After we take care of those things, we can talk about your smile since you mentioned wanting to do something about your front teeth.
You should make sure the patient understands and then conclude with something like this:
Okay, so let's start with taking care of your broken tooth today, and then we can talk about a treatment schedule that's comfortable for you.
The key is to use a respectful tone and let the patient know that they have a choice about how and when to proceed with treatments.
3. Relate to the Patient
Even if you follow a script and cover all the important parts of your dental treatment plan presentation, it can still be ineffective if you don’t relate to the patient.
Instead of seeing you as a fancy physician with high-priced tools, your patient should see you as a friend with dental expertise. Turn the presentation into a discussion so you or your team members aren’t doing all the talking. Hear out their objections and find a non-patronizing way to address them.
Forging an emotional connection with the patient is one thing that can make a big difference. Instead of talking only about dental health, ask what's going on in their lives. Talk directly and compassionately to them about any issues with their teeth and how those issues have impacted them. It may be helpful to ask why they haven't been to a dentist. Anxious patients may have a hard time admitting it because it makes them feel vulnerable. Asking directly can help them to overcome that hurdle.
Patients who feel like they’re being heard are also more likely to trust you. So, make sure your treatment presentation is thorough without coming off as a sales pitch. Many people are looking for a reason to say no because your fees seem too high or they think you’re trying to trick them into unnecessary treatment. Demonstrating compassion and genuine interest will settle their fears and should make it easier for them to get on board with the care that is required.
4. Get Your Team Involved
There are more dentists and dental offices in 2021 than ever before. ADA statistics show that there are 201,117 practicing dentists in the United States representing a 23% increase from 2000. To put that in perspective, the US population has increased by 15% in the same period.
When a patient comes to your practice, your staff plays a big role in the patient's perception of their experience. The receptionist, dental hygienists, and other staff should all work together to establish credibility and trust.
The solution? Train all employees to promote a caring environment where every patient feels welcome and safe. All team members, particularly those with public-facing jobs, should be friendly, personable, and enthusiastic about their jobs.
You might want to consider creating patient engagement scripts for every employee. Levin Group took this approach with one of their dental practice clients, and it helped them grow their total production by $776,000 (35%).
5. Have a Written Treatment Plan
While the in-office presentation to a patient plays a big role in case acceptance, not every patient will feel comfortable deciding while they're in your office. Many need time to consider their options before they agree to proceed.
You can help patients by providing them with a written plan that outlines the proposed treatments. That way, they can review the information at home and contact you when they are ready to do so. It may take a few extra minutes to create a written plan, but it can help patients overcome potential hurdles and get comfortable with receiving the care they need.
6. Focus on Same-Day Treatment
Anytime you need to convince a patient to return to your practice for treatment, it creates a potential obstacle. For that reason, you can increase acceptance rates by focusing on the treatments you can offer the same day as the consultation.
For example, you might say things like:
- This is what we can do for you today
- Today, we want to... and then we'll follow up with...
- The doctor can do A, B, and C today and when he's done, we can talk about the next steps
The benefit of talking about the options for today is that it provides immediate gratification to the patient and underscores your efficiency. When you provide immediate care, it builds rapport and authority with your patient, making it easy to book follow-up appointments. It can also help patients overcome anxiety because it allows you to demonstrate your ability to deliver pain-free care.
7. Remove the Fear
We've already mentioned that fear and anxiety play a big role in a patient's decision to move forward with the care they need. One way to increase the chances that a new patient will move ahead with the necessary treatments is to work on removing their fear.
The language you use can do a lot to allay a patient's fear. For example, you may want to include the following words in your case presentation:
- Minimally invasive
You should also keep in mind that an anxious patient may feel better about proceeding if you let them know that you'll explain what's happening at each step of the process and that you will stop if they feel pain.
For example, a lot of dentists now use lasers to remove dental caries. Lasers are significantly less painful than drills. However, if you have a patient who is fearful of pain, you can let them know that if they raise their hand, you will stop immediately and ensure their comfort before you proceed.
8. Consider Not Focusing on Technical Facts
One of the biggest potential barriers to a new patient getting the care they need is a lack of understanding. Most of the people who come to you for dental care aren't versed in the technical aspects of dentistry. Focusing on technical language and facts may overwhelm and frighten them.
A better option is to focus your presentation and discussion on how the proposed treatment plan will benefit the patient. For example, you might explain that they'll:
- Be free of any pain caused by their existing dental issues
- Experience less discomfort while chewing or talking
- Avoid the need for – and the expense of -- future treatments
- Feel better about their smiles
This benefit-focused approach keeps the patient's attention on positive outcomes instead of on technical details that they're unlikely to understand.
9. Improve Office Appearance
So far, we've focused mostly on aspects of your patient interactions that can impact whether people accept the treatments you suggest. However, there are some cosmetic improvements you can make that may help, too.
Your office should be clean, neat, and modern looking. Nothing that visitors see should look shoddy or out-of-date. The general appearance of your practice reflects on a visitor's perception of your ability to provide professional and reliable care.
The same is true of the exterior of your building and any common spaces. Ideally, you will have a neat parking lot and professional landscaping.
Creating a welcoming and comfortable environment that reflects your professionalism and care for your patients will help build trust.
10. Offer a Dental Saving Plan
There's no question that dental care can be expensive. For people who don't have dental insurance, the thought of paying thousands of dollars to keep their teeth and gums healthy is daunting.
One way to remove some of the stress associated with the financial aspects of dental care is to offer prospective patients a dental savings plan. When used properly, a dental savings plan can help people save money on treatments.
It's important to note that dental savings plans are not insurance and people who use them are still required to pay some of the expenses they incur. Once patients are in the plan, they get a card that makes them eligible for discounted rates that can help make the necessary treatment plan more affordable than it would be otherwise.
11. Offer Free Whitening at the Right Time
When someone comes to your practice for the first time, they may require immediate care while also having long-term concerns about the appearance of their teeth. It's rare for whitening to be the right choice in the initial stages of treatment but it can, if used properly, be an incentive for patients to return to your practice.
One way to incentivize them to return is to put an offer for free or discounted whitening at the bottom of each treatment plan you provide. This strategy lets the person you're treating know that whitening is an option once they've dealt with more serious issues such as dental caries, extractions, or implants.
The key is to put whitening in its proper place. It's usually not going to be appropriate to take impressions for a whitening tray on a patient's first visit to your practice. Instead, you should mention it as something that will be possible down the line and put it on the written treatment plan to ensure that the option stays on the patient's radar.
12. Present Multiple Treatment Options
When you prepare treatment plans for people who haven't had proper dental care for a long time, the array of suggested procedures may be overwhelming. To increase your case acceptance rate, you should consider providing multiple options for different phases of care:
- Mandatory - medically necessary procedures
- Elective - procedures that a patient may elect to have but are not medically necessary
- Cosmetic - procedures that are designed to improve the appearance of the patient's smile
By separating the suggested care into three separate tracks, you can help alleviate some of the overwhelming feelings that can occur when you present a wide array of potential care options. You should clarify that mandatory treatments are those that the person being treated needs to repair damage or infection and prevent more serious issues down the line. The other two categories are things to be addressed once the mandatory care has been delivered.
You may even want to consider focusing only on mandatory care in the first visit and then presenting the patient with the elective and cosmetic options later.
13. Offer the Latest Technology
If you can make the people who come to your practice comfortable with the procedures you are recommending, you'll make it easier for them to accept your suggestions and move forward with the care they need.
One way to accomplish this task is to use state-of-the-art technology in your practice. This illustrates the potential benefits of procedures, streamlines care, and makes it as non-invasive and pain-free as possible.
For example, using CEREC and CAD/CAM can allow your patients to get crowns and veneers on the same day, making it easier for them to set aside time for the care they need. Using intraoral cameras and digital tomography can make it easier for you to demonstrate how proper dental care can impact their overall health and to visualize what their teeth will look like after treatment.
Also, as we already mentioned, laser technology can minimize the pain of treating dental caries and alleviate any anxieties on the part of the person being treated. Staying up to date on technology will ensure that your practice is on the cutting edge and viewed as a leader.
14. Schedule the Appointment
Getting a patient to agree to a timetable for treatment is one thing and scheduling appointments is another. It’s quite common for dental practices to lose patients because of scheduling problems.
For that reason, we strongly recommend getting people to book their next appointment while they are still in your office. If they go home without scheduling, they'll have time to think about all the reasons they shouldn't move forward. Your employees may call them to follow up but still have difficulty getting them to book an appointment.
It may be helpful to instruct your staff to assume that the patient will make an appointment. You can even lead them to the front desk to check out and instruct the front desk staff that the patient needs to make an appointment. It sounds simple, but a lot of times, patients will go along with the suggestion and book an appointment.
If a patient insists on waiting to book an appointment, instruct someone at the front desk to call them within 24 hours to follow up.
15. Make Your Reminders Personal
75% of cell phone users are comfortable receiving text messages from businesses and 90% of text messages are opened within three minutes of receipt. Many dentists already use SMS messaging to communicate with patients and they're popular as a way of sending appointment reminders.
The texting option is convenient for patients, but texts -- especially automated ones -- are undeniably less personal than phone calls. Text messages and emails are easy to ignore, which can reduce appointment attendance and scheduling.
Remember, not all people like text messages. Instead of defaulting to text messages to verify appointments, ask people to opt-in for text messages. If they prefer not to receive texts, then a more personal follow-up by phone or email is the way to go.
16. Help Patients Value Their Appointment Time
How can you get the people you're treating to value their appointment time? One way is to use language that reminds them that your time is valuable too -- and that if they miss an appointment, their care may be delayed as a result.
Use verbiage to help them value their appointment time.
Whether it’s the person booking the patient or calling to remind them of an already booked appointment, there’s plenty you can say to help the patient value their appointment time as much as you do. For example:
- During booking: “We can put you in at lunchtime Thursday, but please let us know if you’ll be late as the doctor has another appointment right after.”
- On an appointment reminder call: “If there’s any reason you won’t be able to make your appointment, please notify us in advance. The doctor has many other patients waiting to schedule treatment who could benefit from that appointment time.”
This kind of communication puts it in the patient’s head that your dental office isn’t waiting on standby for them to show up at their convenience. This can either make them more serious about keeping their appointment or prompt them to cancel in advance so you can book someone else.
17. Set an End-of-Day Protocol
Following up with patients who have not yet scheduled necessary procedures can be frustrating and time-consuming. One way to ensure that those calls get made is to make them part of your employees' end-of-day protocol.
You probably already have a list of tasks that must be completed at the end of the day. Instead of asking employees to carve time out of their schedules in the middle of the day -- when they are already dealing with incoming calls and visitors -- add it to what they do at the end of the day.
You don't need to follow up with everyone every day. Instead, ask your employees to collectively make five phone calls to follow up with people who haven't scheduled appointments each day. That way, you'll know that there's an ongoing effort to close the gap in your case acceptance rate. The key is to coordinate staff efforts, so you don't have two people following up with the same patient on the same day.
18. Explain the Risks of Postponing Treatment
One of the downsides of improvements in dental care over the years is that the average person may not be aware of the profoundly serious consequences that can arise when they delay necessary care.
The health of our mouths, gums, and teeth can have a significant impact on our overall health. In addition to the risk of losing teeth, poor oral hygiene can lead to extreme pain and life-threatening infections.
When a patient is reluctant to address ongoing dental issues, it may be useful to explain what they don't know about the potential health risks of delaying treatment. This can be done when a new patient is in your office, but it may also be something that your employees can mention when they call people to schedule necessary treatments.
In addition to the health risks associated with untreated dental problems, the potential financial downsides of waiting to address dental health can be highly motivating to people who are reluctant to schedule an appointment.
19. Offer a Variety of Payment Options
As we mentioned above, millions of people in the United States don't have dental insurance. So when they delay treatment, it's often because they are worried about paying for it.
That’s why no matter what kind of patient you’re seeing, you should offer every payment option possible. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives, so just because a patient pulls up to your practice in a BMW doesn’t mean they don’t want to see financing options.
A 2016 study found that the percentage of respondents who reported financial barriers to dental care was higher than for any other type of care. The findings illustrate the importance of working with your patients to ensure that they can get the care they need.
One option is to offer special discounts and payment options to encourage patient acceptance, such as:
- A no initial payment option
- A discount for advance full payment
- Accepting half the balance upfront and the remainder after treatment
- Accepting major credit cards
- Zero percent interest
- Special offers
Around 50% of patients don’t have dental insurance. Whatever you can do to make the payment process flexible can help your case acceptance rate.
20. Learn from Rejection
Regardless of which steps you take to improve your patient acceptance rate, you can’t win them all. There will always be patients who refuse treatment -- but each one is a learning opportunity.
Whenever a patient rejects a proposed treatment, try to learn what caused them to back away. Maybe it was a problem with your script, or payment options, or demeanor. If you feel comfortable with the patient, you may even ask them why they decided not to move forward with the treatment.
Dig into the hard numbers and keep track of any changes in your dental case acceptance rates over time. If you see any major increases (or decreases) in your numbers, then it’s probably time to reassess your process to see what you’re doing right (or wrong).
Are You Ready to Increase Your Treatment Plan Acceptance Rate?
Any experienced dental practitioner can tell you that increasing your patient acceptance rate is a key to success. You can improve your case acceptance rate if you:
- Optimize your treatment presentation
- Use the latest technology to help people visualize the benefits of proper dental care
- Provide multiple treatment plans
- Connect with people on an emotional level
- Get your team involved
- Focus on same-day treatments -- and also schedule appointments the same day
- Use personal reminders when you follow up on appointments
- Use language that helps people value their appointment time
- Create an end-of-day protocol to follow up
- Explain the risks of postponing treatment
- Offer a variety of treatment options
- Always learn from rejection experiences
Tracking your acceptance rate will help you understand the things you're doing well and where you can use some improvement.
Do you have a dental case acceptance tip? Please share it below.
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About the Author
Tyson Downs, the owner of Titan Web Agency, has years of experience working with small businesses and helping them meet their revenue goals. Prior to starting Titan Web Agency, he freelanced in SEO and Web Design while working in the corporate world. Tyson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, the father of 5, and enjoys spending time with his family. Particularly on the baseball field.