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‘Tis The Season For Putting Off Treatment; What To Do?

By: Landy Chase, MBA, CSP*

We’ve reached that time of year when patients want to talk now and start treatment later, meaning after January 1, when flexible spending account (FSA) funds once again become available. You can’t blame your patients for thinking that way, since it makes perfectly good economic sense for them to wait.

At the same time, having your patients put off starting treatment has several potential drawbacks to your practice. Most doctors would like to begin treatment now during the “slow season” and avoid adding to the January surge when the FSA money kicks back in, but I have bigger concerns. In those weeks before treatment begins, you run a real risk of those patients deciding not to proceed, or worse yet, losing them to a competitor.

So, your goal should be to have a firm commitment to begin treatment at the conclusion of the initial visit; firm being more than a verbal “we plan to do this.” Firm means that the patient is formally and mentally “in,” and you can count on the new business being there come January.

With FSA funds resetting again on January 1, patients have a practical reason for delaying the treatment. Have you given them a reason to start now? There are several effective ways to do this, including:

• Allow the patient to start treatment now with a signed agreement and two automatic payment arrangements in place, one primary and the other as a secondary/back up, and postponing any payment until January 1. Some doctors are afraid to do this because they think they won’t be paid. The fact is, this perception is much worse than reality, since non-payment is very rare with automatic payments in place.

• Allow the patient to start treatment now with a very small down payment ($100 or less) with the balance of the down payment due in January, and the same automatic payment arrangements in place. The token deposit here is solely to evidence commitment. Once money has changed hands - even a small amount - the patient considers the matter closed, and will follow through with treatment and not shop around.

• Offer a financial discount to start now that exceeds the benefit of postponing payments until January. The “why” here, if the patient asks, is due to the fact that having patients start now eases your January workload, and is therefore worth a small fee reduction to your practice.

• Point out that the annual FSA limit has been reduced (from $5,000 to $2,500) beginning in 2013. This can, in some cases, work to your benefit by negating some of the incentive for postponement. Educate your patients on this point and look for ways to spread payments out and begin treatment now, while ensuring that they maximize their FSA allotment in the upcoming calendar years.

There are certainly other options. Understanding what will motivate your patients to act now versus later, and giving them a reason to do it, will improve treatment acceptance during your slow season and avoid losing patients to your competitors.


* Landy Chase, MBA, CSP is a sales and marketing expert who specializes in assisting orthodontists and other elective procedure doctors improve their case acceptance rates. For more information on his sales consulting services, visit www.yestotreatment.com or call 800.370­.8026.

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