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The average U.S. adult has a level of reading comprehension of an eighth or ninth grader, while most consumer health literature requires a higher level of understanding. And if the average is an eighth or ninth grade level, there are many adults with much less ability. The dental team has a duty to communicate at the patient’s literacy level — leaving no clinical term undefined or fee confused. In this first of a two-part series, financial literacy of the dental patient is examined.
Evelyn Ireland, executive director of the Dallas-based National Association of Dental Plans (NADP), said that the dental staff should assume dental patients haven’t looked at their benefits but want guidance. Patients are concerned with cost, and so they are relieved when the staff initiates the conversation about payment.
“Our long-time dentist decided he would stop taking dental insurance, but didn’t tell any of his dental patients,” Ms. Ireland recalled. “So my husband had a new crown done, and on the way out, he hands over his insurance card. The staff member says: ‘Oh, we don’t take that insurance anymore. You can bill them yourself and say you were out-of-network and get reimbursed.’ My husband, surprised, asked, ‘Why don’t you bill them for me like you used to?’ The staff member said, ‘You have always been our patient and should know that it is your responsibility to know whether or not we accept your insurance.’”
It’s hard for a patient who is still numb from treatment to argue. And so, at that office, the goodwill was lost and the family changed dentists.
NADP’s 2007 consumer survey found that money/lack of dental insurance was the No. 1 reason people avoided making a dental appointment.
“I grind my teeth at night and so when my dentist said he could fit me with an appliance, I said ‘Great! How much will it cost?’” Paul Golden, a spokesperson for the National Endowment for Financial Education in Denver, recalled. “He said $600, but he didn’t offer me any suggestions on how I could afford that, so I put it off.”
Mr. Golden found a less expensive provider elsewhere.
“If I knew I could have made payments or gotten financing so it didn’t all go on Visa [which has a higher interest rate], I would have done it on the spot.”
Seizing teachable moments helps patients become financially literate, and chatting about payment communicates that you really care about your patients and their financial concerns — not just your financial concerns. Ms. Ireland summarized: “The more comfortable you can make them, the happier they are going to be with you as their dentist, and the easier it’s going to be to collect what you are owed.”
NEXT MONTH:Health Literacy of the Dental Patient
Thanks to Ruth Schultz, ADA Library, for her assistance.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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