May 2018
Volume 14, Issue 5

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Patient Membership Plans

Disrupting the financial services status quo

Very rarely does an opportunity arise to shift the way both dentists and patients think about dental care. Companies offering patient membership plan software are providing both groups an alternative to standard dental insurance and discount dental plans. Inside Dentistry interviewed Dave Monahan, CEO of Kleer, to discuss how membership plans like those offered by the Kleer platform are having a positive impact on dentistry.

Inside Dentistry (ID): How did you initially develop the concept for this program?

Dave Monahan (DM): After selling my previous company, I had an informative con-
-versation with a dentist who owns six practices, and it sparked my interest in both the care and financial sides of dentistry. I was amazed to learn that roughly 50% of people don't go to the dentist each year, 40% don't have dental benefits, and dentists are struggling to make money from dental insurance. Subsequently, I spent 9 months investigating this market, using a research firm that uncovered a significant amount of data and insight.

ID: During your research phase, what did you discover about how uninsured consumers approach dental care?

DM: A few points really stood out. About 40 million people in the United States don't have dental benefits, but they still go to the dentist. When you talk to uninsured patients, they are hesitant to seek treatment in the way someone with an insurance plan would because they are afraid of costs. As a consequence, the frequency at which they seek treatment is approximately once every 2 years, which is much less often than individuals with insurance who come in about 1.3 to 1.4 times a year. I also learned that uninsured patients wanted more dental care-they saw the value in it, but they didn't want to buy insurance because it was too complicated and expensive.

ID: What feedback did dental consumers give about their priorities when choosing a dental care plan?

DM: They want better options. Patients and consumers were telling us they wanted a dental benefit plan, but not what was currently offered by insurance companies. So we asked them what they wanted. Patients shared that they need plans to be simple, affordable, and also transparent (because they don't trust the fees quoted by practices). Furthermore, they want coverage for preventive care and discounts on other treatments, such as fillings and crowns.

ID: In creating your model, how did you identify what considerations are most important to dental providers?

DM: We did the same amount and type of research on the perspectives of dentists: interviews, focus groups, surveys, etc. The core message of the majority of respondents was  "insurance is killing me, and I can't make money from it." They commented that the fees get worse every year, the caps don't change, and it's a hassle to deal with the companies. When the dentists we spoke to also confirmed everything that we learned during our consumer research, we knew there was an opportunity to provide better options that would benefit both groups.

ID: Describe the overall objective for your product.

DM: We created Kleer to connect uninsured patients with dentists directly, by cutting out the middle man. This allows patients to pay significantly less than if they purchased insurance-typically $25 to $30 a month for a membership that covers all their cleanings, x-rays, and exams twice a year. And depending on their provider, they also receive 20% to 40% off other treatments. It's exactly what consumers asked for. On the dentists' side, the subscription fee goes directly to the provider, not the insurer, whether the patient comes in or not.

ID: In your model, dentists sell the membership plans to their patients. How do you equip them to take on that challenge?

DM: It is absolutely the biggest challenge of this business. We've done a number of things to support them. For example, every practice that joins gets a Kleer account manager, who spends a lot of time with the dentist and office staff to teach them the value of the membership plan and how to sell it to their patients. The key is to understand that when someone sells a membership, it's good for both the patient and the practice. Patients get the care they want on the terms they want, and dentists get profitable fee for service patients who are committed to their practices. When office staff are comfortable having a conversation with the patients about the plan options and the associated value, we see a high success rate. We also give practices all the tools they need to sell to their patients, including a Kleer welcome kit that includes resources like tent cards they can display on their front desks; information sheets patients can take home; digital tools that make it easy to run social media ads, Google ads, and direct mail campaigns; and a widget for advertising the membership plan on their websites.We make it extremely easy for them to get the word out.

ID: Do you think this plan is a motivator for patients to go to the dentist?

DM: Absolutely. When you're paying a subscription fee, you take advantage of that. We see membership plan patients visit the dentist two to three times more than an uninsured patient and accept 50% to 100% more treatment. This is consistent with subscription models in other industries.

ID: What's the target mark your highest performing practices aim for?

DM: High performing practices focus on active uninsured patients, dormant uninsured patients, and retiring patients who lose dental benefits. A typical practice starts signing up patients the week they launch their plan and then are off and running.

ID: Do the practices approach patients on a case-by-case basis or use their databases to launch a campaign?

DM: The highest performing practices email information about the plan to their uninsured patients before their next visit, highlighting the money they will save if they subscribe. They then reinforce the value of the membership plan during the patient visit and try to sign them up while they are in the office.

ID: Regarding preexisting conditions, have dentists with knowledge of a patient's condition opted not to pitch the plan to that individual?

DM: No, participating dentists have been happy to offer all uninsured patients the plan, because the patient pays for all services (at a slightly discounted rate), and on average, the  practice receives $300 of subscription revenue. In addition, the patients begin scheduling regular visits. This is not a short-term plan. We want to give patients a long-term benefit that gets them in the office more often and gives them a deal for being more committed to their oral health. And  at the end of the day, this formula will drive an average of 50% more revenue for the practice. In addition,  we have included a "share with a friend" program inside the application. When a member joins, he or she can share this with a friend or family member, who receives a credit to be used at the practice. We also donate money to America's Tooth Fairy, which helps underserved kids get free dental care, and this also gives the patient incentive to share. 

ID: What other companies currently offer similar platforms?

DM: There are probably about five or six. ProCare Dental Services Plan, Quality Dental Plan, and illumitrac℠ are just a few of the various companies that provide membership plan software.

ID: In your opinion, how will these programs continue to meet the challenges of this constantly changing industry in the future?

DM: For me, the critical part is getting the dentists what they need and want. Partnerships with dentists drive the platforms, and at the end of the day, that equals long-term value.

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