Just about everyone in the dental industry knows all too well about the frustrations of “the insurance question.” What started out as a boon to dentistry when it was first introduced and got people into dental chairs more regularly, has in many ways become more limiting than liberating, for patients and dentists.
And yet the insurance-driven model persists in many practices, for a couple of reasons. First of all, dentists rightly recognize that dental insurance coverage is important to their patients, and they want to be accommodating and helpful so that patients get the most from their dental insurance plans. And also, let’s face it – it can be easier for the dentist, too, to be insurance-focused, because that’s where the greatest rate of acceptance is. This has created a deeply entrenched mindset in most patients and in many dentists.
The Simple Reality of Dental Insurance
Patients have developed a point of reference, one that dentists and dental insurance companies have been amplifying, that has established a context for thinking about dentistry. It’s a context that says going to a dentist is about getting “cleanings,” fillings and pain relief.
But that is NOT where the future is. Dental insurance is going to become less of a factor. It has to, because while the possibilities for great dentistry continue to grow, insurance limits are still stuck in the 1960s. The average annual insurance limit today is $1500—and we all know how much dentistry that buys.
And then there is our changing economy. It used to be that anyone with a decent full-time job had good medical and dental insurance. That’s not something that can be taken for granted anymore. Nowadays, people are more likely to work independently, or to work at a few lower-paying jobs. In any case, dentistry is destined to become less insurance-funded and more patient-funded in the years ahead. That’s the simple reality.
Changing a Patient's Mindset About Dental Insurance
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because, as I have often said, people will always pay for what they value. Insurance does not generally cover gym memberships and personal trainers, for instance, but people who are health-conscious line up to pay for these services. Dentistry can be like that too - a service you willingly pay for to get the best health results possible.
But for that to happen, patients have to change their mindset about the limits of dental insurance. That means changing their point of reference about dentistry so that they come to see the possibilities for their smiles, their confidence, and their overall well-being, just as they do for all the other things they do to help them feel better about themselves. And that won’t happen until dentists change their point of reference first. By all means, continue to help your patients get the most from whatever coverage they have available. But it should be a part of your everyday dialogue with patients to make them understand what insurance is and what it isn’t.
Today, there is an incredible world of possibilities beyond dental insurance limits. If you’re serious about being an outstanding clinician in this new paradigm, your focus must be on getting patients to see past those limits and to embrace the value of what you can do.
(Click this link to learn more about dental practice management from Imtiaz Manji.)