Some of us practice in areas saturated with dentists. At last count, there were 25 dentists just on my street! Competition is fierce. Over the years, I’ve collected a number of ads I’ve found locally. It’s quite common to see specific dental services advertised for very low fees.
Our culture has trended towards turning dentistry (and all health care) into commodities. A crown is a crown is a crown, right? As a profession, many of us have played right into the commodity game.
If a patient asks, “How much do you charge for a crown?” can you answer with confidence? What if a patient compares your fee to an advertised fee that is lower? What then?
Here is a sampling of local coupons:
This is all very real in south Florida. For dentures, my lab costs alone exceed these advertised fees. So, how are these dentists doing it? Frankly, I don’t care. I probably don’t want to know! It doesn’t matter. But, what if one of my own patients compares my fees to those in these advertisements? My fees are considerably higher. A LOT higher.
Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, such questions rarely occur. How I handle them varies from one case to the next. But, I do not stammer out a justification for my fees. I never justify with the typical explanations about high quality materials, labs, or other overhead costs. I also never say something like, “My fees are AVERAGE for this area.” First of all, my fees are NOT average. And, I never want to even inadvertently send any message that characterizes my practice as “average.” My practice is not average, and neither are my fees. I look them straight in the eye and simply state the obvious: “My fees are among the highest in the area.” It’s brutal honesty. And, it’s simply the truth. I will then let the patient fill in the blanks. Some get it. Some don’t. I believe the more explaining you do, the less credibility you will have.
But, even if your fees are “average” for your area…. Don’t say it! If you feel compelled to justify your fees, say something like, “My fees reflect the quality and expertise we provide.” “We keep our fees very reasonable for the value of our services.” Or something like that. Please don’t use the word “average!”
A true story… A few years ago a new patient pulled me aside and in a hushed voice she asked me, “How do your fees compare to everyone else in this area?” And, I gave that very answer in the previous paragraph. I told her my fees were among the highest. I didn’t say WHY. But, I didn’t break eye contact. I didn’t blush or stutter. I just stated a fact. And, she didn’t ask why. But, she did complete nearly $15,000 worth of quadrant restorative treatment over the next year or so. At one of her subsequent recall visits, she again pulled me aside. “Do you remember what you told me about your fees when we first met?” I do. “Well, I just wanted you to know that the way you answered it is why I chose to have my work done here. You were confident that you knew what you were worth.”
It was a bit of an epiphany, because while in my heart I felt I was on the right path. I believed in how I practice. But, to hear that, unsolicited, from a patient was a stunning confirmation of it all. Of course, I realize not all patients in this great country will feel that way. But, some will. They are the patients I seek. So, it begs the question: Am I really competing with the coupon dentists? Answers in the negative and affirmative can certainly be argued successfully. Perhaps a better question is: Will I CHOOSE to compete with the coupon dentists?
Please understand this article is not intended to be an indictment of any kind directed at dentists who advertise low fees or use coupons. Market segmentation is a good thing. And, no doubt, there are “coupon dentists” who are very successful. My point is to suggest that there is a market for all kinds of dental practices.
I hope this article will at least stimulate some thought amongst all the Dental Warriors. Choose your path and be true to yourself. Then you can be true to your patients, too. Feel free to share your stories in the comments below!
PS! I had to throw in these photos. We’ve even got roadside signs and sign spinners here!