Dental plans are becoming a more and more common option in dental practices across the country. Christine Smethurst, head of sales at Agilio Software explains why you should introduce a dental plan for your practice and how Agilio’s new Iplan system eases the process of putting a plan into place and managing it.
From recent research with our Agilio customers, we were surprised to learn only a third of our practices are running a dental plan.
Naturally, we were curious to find out why. For some, the reason is the perception that the set up and administration is an additional burden. For others, they worry about how to remunerate their dentists and hygienists. And for a few, the marketing and communications around the plan seems too daunting.
Additionally, some are uncertain about the actual benefits of a dental plan.
We have set up and run Agilio Iplan in 25 practices (with about 30,000 members) for the past 17 years. Through this experience, the benefits of a dental plan quickly show themselves.
Patients sign up because they buy into your practice, your business, and your offer. They are the loyal advocates who will come back for treatments. They’ll keep up with their routine visits once they are a member of your plan.
Typically, plan members spend three times more per annum than non-plan members. If your service continues to work for them, they are committed followers. Attrition should run at below 5% per year.
2. Guaranteed patients
Customers signed up to a dental plan are a group of people you can talk to regularly. They will respond to marketing campaigns and offers, they will help you get other members, and they can help build books for new associates and hygienists as soon as they join your practice.
They are also the patients that will fill in-house referral books.
3. A regular income stream
These patients create a predictable and regular payment stream to cover monthly practice fixed costs as you build the base (ideally a minimum of £12,000 per month per practice).
It is well-documented that through the pandemic, patients continued to pay for their plans. Even though they were unable to attend.
The power of loyalty!
Alongside the benefits, there are some considerations before setting up a dental plan.
First, many think the discounted check-up and hygiene visits are a cost to the business.
However, if you manage your plan wisely and remunerate against visits (not the plan itself) it is cash positive. That’s before you benefit from the list above.
Let’s just walk through a financial example:
- You have a plan allowing a patient to sign up annually for £99 or monthly for £12. One delivers £99 but costs only £1.50 per patient per year in direct debit processing. The other delivers £144 and costs about £20 in direct debit payments. Attrition much lower in the annual plan and the deal so strong, sign-ups are rapid
- You offer two check-ups and two hygiene visits as part of the plan. Plus some discounts on certain treatments or free whitening– or similar
- You remunerate clinicians at 45% on average. Only remunerate them for the appointments they complete (not plan memberships)
- You charge £45 for check-ups and £45 for hygiene visits (we will come back to fees a little later)
- Therefore, if your plan patient attends all four treatments (on average, they actually attend 2.4 appointments): the normal fees for all four visits is = £45 x four = £180
- Dentist/hygienist remuneration is = £180 x 45% = £81
- The patient has paid either £144 less cost of processing the plan £120; or £99 – £1.50 =£97.50
So, plan profit is either £39 or £16.50 (with the average 2.4 visits that rises to £72 or £49).
Not huge, but still in credit. Then there’s the treatment conversion levels and spend – three times higher.
Why consider an annual plan?
Patients are motivated by the discount offered with an annual plan.
If they visit just for a check-up and hygiene appointment and paid £90, it is easy to suggest a sign up before their next appointment (they are effectively getting a check-up and hygiene session free).
I would not offer the plan as part of that payment, however. But you could build the base fast.
The annual arrangement does ensure all the payment in advance. And the annual fee leads to lower churn or attrition rates (not something seen on a monthly bank statement).
Twenty new plans a week is roughly £2,000 additional revenue or £8,000 per month. With some simple messages on literature and with the front desk crew, conversion is simple.
Is insurance worth it?
Often the cost of running the plan is increased by the addition of accident insurance.
However, it is very rarely needed and not the reason your patients sign up.
They sign up for the ease of coming to you and your practice. The spread of payments, the reassurance they have a dentist to look after them, the benefits of the offers you provide.
Plan providers include insurance and charge for it because it is an added income. They often underwrite it themselves as they know the risk is very low.
But – that extra 50-75p per month per patient soon adds a significant cost to plan management when other benefits you can provide and control can be so much more beneficial. Perhaps an oral health goody bag, free whitening top up, child brushing education, or free check-up visits if parents are members (up to five years of age) and more.
Insurance can be part of the mix. But don’t assume it is a motivating factor for your patients.
To me it always feels like the product insurance I am offered when buying appliances. Expensive, unnecessary, and often ineffective when things do go wrong.
Usually the insurance (home, travel etc) we cover most eventualities. And your patients probably know it.
What about patient fees?
Most of your patients know the cost of a check-up, a hygiene visit, a filling, an implant and (some) STO fees (usually parents of teenagers).
They will also be aware of NHS rates (but often not what they cover).
In other industries these are classed at KVIs (known value items) or even entry price points.
Keeping them competitive and accessible extends your marketplace.
If you are, or intending to be, a high-end practice, this is not where you will focus your marketing effort.
For the vast majority of the 12,500 practices in the UK, especially those migrating towards a private base, then considering and articulating your value proposition is key.
Knowing your place in the market and how you attract patients does not undermine your clinical offer or cheapen the service you provide. It simply helps you (and your patients) to be clear about the whole service and payment exchange.
Once you have that, your dental plan is a vital part of your marketing and relationship building strategy.
Dental plans: the case for
- Encourages client loyalty and higher spend
- Source of regular, predictable income
- Easy and quick to setup.
To find out more about our newly enhanced Agilio Iplan – visit our website: agiliosoftware.com/dental/iplan.