How to Boost Dental Revenue: A Guide to Maximizing Client Compliance and Your Bottom Line

Dentistry revenue remains is often a small percentage of most practices’ total revenue. Here’s a step-by-step guide to reviewing and updating your current dental fee structure and a plan to improve dental revenue for your practice.

Adapted from The Veterinary Fee Reference, Eleventh Edition

According to the American Veterinary Dental College, by three years of age, most dogs and cats have some evidence of periodontal disease. Studies at Ohio State and Cornell Universities indicate 85% of canines and felines older than six years of age have some form of periodontal disease. That statistic has major implications for healthcare for pets as well as for the bottom line of veterinary practices.

“Veterinary dentistry is definitely on the rise, but it’s still probably the most underutilized revenue source in most practices because people just don’t understand the full potential,” said Paul Camilo, CVPM, of Veterinary Consultation Services.

For all the talk about the health benefits of pet dentistry and the clear implications for practice financial health, dentistry revenue remains a small percentage of most practices’ total revenue.

Here is a step-by-step guide to reviewing and updating your current dental fee structure and a plan to improve dental revenue for your practice.

Examine Your Current Dental Fee Program and Revenue

Look back on the past year or few years of dental services your practice has performed. Is your practice’s dental program experiencing real growth in the number of dental transactions? Is your dental program truly profitable, with revenue covering all expenses and the service bringing in strong net profit? If you have a highly profitable practice with reasonable growth in revenue driven by real growth in the number of clients seen and the services they buy, and you do a large amount of dental work, your current dental fee schedule is likely accurately set for your practice. But if your practice isn’t as profitable as it could be, and the amount of dental care you are providing is low, the fees you charge and your strategy for dental services may need to be reviewed and adjusted.

Review What Competitors Are Charging

Many practices have set their dental prices based on previous experience and best guesses rather than examining the market around them. And it’s not uncommon for hospitals to increase all their service fees by a certain percentage every year, rather than examining pricing individually or looking at pricing trends in their area. Reliable data and a fact-based pricing strategy are essential for setting dental fees that are appropriate for your unique market. Reach out to the practices in your area to better understand what they are charging for dental services and invest in a fee benchmarking guide such as The Veterinary Fee Reference. This will get you the essential data to understand where your practice stands in your local market and what options your clients have when they are choosing dental services for their pets. Be sure to compare your current dental fee schedule down to individual services, and take your practice’s individual circumstances into consideration, such as the number of veterinarians on staff, where your practice is located, and the median household income level of the clients in your area. All of this will affect what your practice can charge and how effective you’ll be in developing a successful dental program.

For all the talk about the health benefits of pet dentistry and the clear implications for practice financial health, dentistry revenue remains a small percentage of most practices’ total revenue.

Investigate What Clients Are Willing to Pay

Take the time to meet with your staff and review medical records to get data about how much pushback and resistance your clients are giving to your dental care recommendations. Check in on how many clients have outstanding balances due or have struggled to pay for services. Clients may not be accepting your recommendations—even though they understand the importance—simply because it costs too much. Even when the dental services per se are reasonably priced, the total cost of a dental procedure can add up fast when medications, fluids, bloodwork, and other services are added in. One helpful way to get a better understanding of what clients expect to pay is the Pet Owners Economic Value Study from the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. The study surveyed US pet owners of varying demographics on what monetary value they place on veterinary services, including a dental care services package. Unsurprisingly, the responses show that pet owners often prefer to pay less than the standard price set by most veterinary practices. You may find it helpful to compare your fee schedule with the Pet Owners Economic Value Study results. If you find that there is a huge gap between what clients are willing to pay and what you are currently charging, you can examine ways to improve efficiency, provide education to improve client compliance, and potentially roll out discounts or special pricing for dental services.

Reassess the Efficiency of Your Dental Services

If price is a barrier for your clients, review your system for providing this care. Is there a way to do it more efficiently and at a lower cost? Would more training for technicians and assistants help them perform better and faster? Are you routinely having to reanesthetize pets to perform extractions because you couldn’t contact the client during the procedure to obtain permission? Identify ways the practice could better collect contact information for the client or obtain permission in advance for the extractions. All of this might allow you to adjust your prices closer to what your clients are willing and able to pay.

Redouble Client Education Efforts

As with all the other services in a veterinary practice, we cannot look at the fees for dental services independently of the communication of value to pet owners. One of the most common reasons dental programs are underutilized is pet owners’ lack of understanding of the need for dental care services. Communicating the need for these services and their value can and should be done in multiple ways. Examine your current practice processes and add in the steps that make the most sense for you and your team:

  • Perform a full oral exam as part of every physical exam.
  • Speak with passion—the discussion between the doctor or veterinary technician and client about the findings from the oral exam should clearly emphasize the need for care and the value. Use posters, models, or digital photos to help clients understand.
  • Educate staff members so they can speak with confidence about the need for these services and the benefits derived. Provide low-cost dentals to employee pets so employees can speak from experience about the benefits.
  • Schedule recommended dental work before the client leaves; if that fails, make sure follow-up reminders, letters, or phone calls are done.
  • Provide additional information in attractive brochures and handouts.
  • Clearly communicate the benefits of dental care (not just the need for it) in all conversations and in printed or electronic materials.
  • Use targeted marketing campaigns via mail or email to highlight the importance of dental care.

Roll Out Special Pricing Discounts and Track Their Effectiveness

Another way to make it easier for clients to afford dental services is through strategic discounts. A popular pricing strategy would be to offer a discount or a permanent fee reduction on services a practice wants to promote, including dental services. A permanent fee reduction would generally apply to all clients, whereas a discount could be targeted at specific clients or specific times. For example, clients whose pets haven’t had dentistry done in three or more years might be offered a discounted set of services. Or dentals could be offered at a reduced price during slow times of the week or a slow month. (February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and many practices offer reduced-price dental care during that time, but you can adapt this strategy to any time that makes sense for your practice.) Keep in mind that the goal of the discount or price reduction is to increase volume. If your practice performs the same number of dentals as previously but at a lower price, you haven’t accomplished this goal. Therefore, any fee reduction needs to be accompanied by an aggressive campaign to educate clients. Track the results over six months to see whether more dentals were performed after the advent of the discount and the education campaign. If more revenue is coming in at the lower price and the costs of providing the service haven’t increased because of the new program, the price change has been effective as a strategy. Even more important, pets are getting better care.

Is your practice’s pricing based on data or instinct? The Veterinary Fee Reference  is the profession’s most reliable and well-organized resource on fee setting, and the eleventh edition has been updated to ensure you can find your perfect price for more than 500 services—including a new chapter on telemedicine.

Photo credits: Irina Cheremisinova/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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