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Could this be the year that dental discounts die?

When National Pet Dental Health Month began in February two decades ago, its goal was to educate pet owners and fill seasonal downturns for practices. Deliberate discounts have mutated into marketing monsters for hospitals. Many practices have jampacked dental schedules from January to March to accommodate the demand.

With current staff shortages and overloaded schedules, many hospital managers and owners are ditching the 10% to 20% price cut. Others may quit discounting because dental procedures are forward booked two to three months out.

Let us end dental month discounts and make treatment part of everyday exam conversations. Use these educational approaches to get clients to accept preventive dentistry year-round:

ditch the term “dental.”

This catchall word does not accurately define a particular procedure, according to the 2019 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats (1). Teams should use specific terminology such as complete oral health assessment, orthodontics, periodontal surgery, and advanced oral surgery. AAHA’s guidelines include a chart of dental term definitions such as: “Oral surgery is the practical manipulation and incising of epithelium of hard and soft tissue for the purpose of improving or restoring oral health and comfort.”

focus on the benefits of treatment.

Jason Coe, DVM, PhD, a professor at University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College and an expert in veterinary clinical communication, suggests considering clients’ perspectives (2). Pet owners want to know:

  • What treatment options are available along with the cost?
  • What will my pet experience based on the treatment we choose?
  • What is the prognosis or outlook?
  • If I accept treatment, what will be the outcome for my pet’s health?

avoid the wiggle word of “recommend.”

Clients may assume they can wait because the procedure is just a recommendation and is not urgent nor medically necessary. Instead, use the action word of “need.”

USE photos to increase client understanding.

Research shows 65% of people are visual learners (2). They understand best when shown an image, model, or graphic demonstrating the problem or treatment. Use photos two ways:

1) Document and share your diagnosis. Use a smartphone to take dental photos that help clients see problem areas. Markup, enlarge, and crop images to show clients what you see. Save images in patients’ electronic medical records to visually document the diagnosis and share photos with clients by text or email.

2) Explain procedures with slideshows. Take photos of your team performing preanesthetic testing, taking dental radiographs, using surgical monitoring equipment, and other steps of procedures. Build a PowerPoint presentation branded with your logo. Write captions for each photo. Export the presentation as a slideshow to play on exam room computers or digital photo frames. Share the slideshow on your website and social media, too.

provide treatment plans on the day of diagnosis.

After hearing diagnoses, pet owners want to know their next steps. Give clients information to help them decide and schedule today. A treatment plan serves four purposes:

  1. Gives you legal permission to treat
  2. Lists services and products in the procedure
  3. Shares expected cost of care
  4. States payment policies

Treatment plans will have a high and low range. Do not call it an “estimate” or you risk making the conversation “all about the money.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE? 

address cost head-on.

For one out of four pet owners, an unexpected expense of $250 or less is a financial issue (3). The average dental case is $499.64, including preanesthetic exam, CBC with differential, chemistry panel with eight chemistries, dental radiographs, preoperative pain medication, 30 minutes of anesthesia, IV catheter and placement, IV fluids, dental scaling and polishing, subgingival curettage, fluoride application, electronic monitoring, post-procedure pain medication, post-procedure injectable antibiotics, hospitalization, and one-week supply of antibiotics (4).

Say, “We can help you with financing options to pay for veterinary care,” advises the eBook, Language That Works: Changing the Way We Talk About Veterinary Care, from the American Veterinary Medical Association (5).

Update your hospital’s treatment plan templates with links where clients can learn about third-party financing. The last line item on a treatment plan is: “Learn about financing options at <link>.” Embedding the description in templates will ensure financial solutions are consistently communicated to clients. Circle or highlight the link so clients know where to learn more. In addition to treatment plans, share financing links in email and text confirmations, QR codes, website banners and buttons, and social media posts.

set dental fees by grade to incentivize early treatment.

Increase prices 25% or more between each grade. A Grade 1 dental procedure might include one 30-minute unit of anesthesia while a Grade 2 procedure would have 1.5 units or 45 minutes. Using the average of $500 for a 30-minute Grade 1 dental procedure from AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, from Grades 1 to 4, the cost of care nearly doubles (see chart). Reward the behavior you want, which is early treatment. Extractions would be additional based on the number and difficulty of oral surgery.

Dental treatment         Average fee

Grade 1                       $500

Grade 2                       $625

Grade 3                       $781

Grade 4                       $976

ask for a commitment to treat.

Offer the veterinarian’s next two procedure days. Book the dental treatment with the same doctor who diagnosed the condition because he or she will be familiar with the case and enjoy production pay. Scheduling with the same doctor also increases clients’ confidence.

Use the yes-or-yes technique to lead clients to book now: “Dr. <Name> diagnosed <pet name> with Grade 3 dental disease. We can perform the procedure on <date 1> or <date 2>. Which do you prefer?”

Let’s stop cramming too many procedures into one month, running our technicians ragged, and disappointing clients who can’t get the discount when patient capacity overflows. Celebrate the end of discounts during National Pet Dental Health Month like the death of the Yellow Pages!

WANT TO LEARN MORE? 

References:

1 –  Bellows J,  Berg L, Dennis S, Harvey R, Lobprise L, Snyder C, Stone A, and Van de Wetering. 2019 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. Available at: https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/dental/aaha_dental_guidelines.pdf. Accessed Dec. 19, 2022.

2 – Klingbord J. Exam Room Communication for Veterinarians. AAHA Press, 2011:27,29,160-162,34-35.

3 – Pet Lifetime of Care Study, August 2021:13. Synchrony. Available at: http://petlifetimeofcare.com/#page=1. Accessed Dec. 19, 2022.

4 – AAHA Veterinary Fee Reference, 11th edition, AAHA Press, 2021;120.

5 – Language That Works: Changing the Way We Talk About Veterinary

Care, American Veterinary Medical Association. September 2021:22. Available at: https://www.avma.org/blog/new-ebook-reveals-best-language-use-clients. Accessed Nov. 29, 2022.

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