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Implants for the Generations
Helping your patients accept treatment
Sameer Bhasin, MBA, MHA
More than 5 million implants are placed every year, and that number is growing, fueled in part by the needs of aging patients from Generation X and the Baby Boomer generation. In fact, the number of people with missing teeth will increase to more than 200 million during the next 15 years.1 Not surprisingly, more dentists are acquiring education and training on how to do implants, believing it to be the new standard of care when compared with a traditional solution, such as a bridge or dentures.
However, according to a study by the American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute, Americans aged 50 to 64 are more likely than any other age group to report cost barriers to dental care.2 Therefore, although the doctor may be able to complete a case clinically, education about oral health and payment options is needed to help patients handle it financially.
Their Financial Environment
Born between 1965 and 1979, Generation X is one of the smallest generations, making up about 16% of the population. Today, they may be in their peak earning and spending years, with many juggling the costs of owning homes, having school-age or college-age children, and saving for retirement.3 Aged 39 to 53, some of the oldest in this generation are even grandparents.
Financially, Generation X may have borne the brunt of the housing collapse of the Great Recession. As a whole, the people of this generation have the most credit card debt and often use credit cards for their day-to-day purchases as part of their money management philosophy.3 Apart from their expenses, the significant life events experienced by this demographic create a greater need for products and services, which requires additional financial resources. Oral health priorities may not be on that list.
The Baby Boomers, now aged 53 to 71, have significantly more numbers than Generation X.3They may be "empty nesters" or part of the so-called "sandwich generation," helping support both their aging parents as well as their teenage or young adult children. Financially, the Baby Boomer generation grew up during a time of economic prosperity and helped fuel the growth of the credit card industry. This generation has the best credit scores, the most credit cards, and the largest total credit limit.4
Among potential implant patients, there is no one-size-fits-all financial strategy. Creating a dialogue with patients helps the team understand that they have other financial needs and wants that they could easily prioritize over dentistry. As patients share insights into their lives, it can be helpful to consistently write notes in their files and review these prior to the next appointment. Not only will this help the practice better understand patients' financial circumstances, but also other events in their lives that may have an impact on their oral and overall health.
Prioritizing Oral Health
Dental treatment can be a major financial decision that patients must weigh against other necessities (and luxuries). The fact that, in most circumstances, insurance does not cover implant therapy, also serves to move the treatment into the nonessential category in patients' minds, because they believe that if it was truly critical then insurance would cover it.
Many treatment acceptance programs emphasize creating an honest, ongoing conversation with the patient. For example, an upcoming graduation celebration could elicit a discussion of college costs. Showing empathy and concern for your patients' individual circumstances-in addition to the clinical care you deliver-will establish trust long before you have to discuss treatment options. In addition, keeping contact information updated will alert the team to moves and other life events, such as marriages and divorces.
Although dentists continue to rank high as a trusted profession by many metrics, a major shift in the way that patients consume healthcare treatment is underway, and oral healthcare is part of that change. When making financial decisions, patients have become more cautious-even for necessary care. They may search the internet for additional information about implants, implant alternatives, and treatment costs before committing to treatment. Unfortunately, if the practice has not thoroughly explained the treatment and answered all relevant questions, incorrect information may impact the patient's decision to accept it.
For some patients, greater care should be taken in establishing the "why" and explaining the "how" of implant treatment before proceeding to the costs and payment options. Helping them focus on the importance of implants as a part of their individual, long-term health can make a difference.
Part of the Solution
Although you and your team may not be completely comfortable discussing financial arrangements, it is in the best interest of your patients. Providing several payment options may be the solution that enables patients to enjoy their life events with a healthy and more beautiful smile.
The advantages of implants are obvious to the dental team, but they will not be obvious to patients. Implants are a more permanent solution that can help patients avoid additional dental needs and expenses in the future. These generations saw the problems that dentures created for their patients and do not want to go through the same issues, especially when there are better alternatives. Positioning implants as the best care available raises their importance and relative value.
To make it as easy as possible for patients to achieve this goal, despite their other financial priorities, means providing them with or educating them about payment options that they may not be aware of (eg, the CareCredit card, which is specifically for health-related expenses).
Oftentimes, filling the gaps in patients' smiles with implants necessitates helping them fill the gap between the cost of care and their insurance benefits. Understanding patients' lives and financial circumstances can help dental teams provide the most appropriate solutions to enable them to accept recommended treatment.
1. American Academy of Implant Dentistry. Dental Implants Facts and Figures. American Academy of Implant Dentistry website. https://www.aaid.com/about/Press_Room/Dental_Implants_FAQ.html. Accessed May 10, 2018.
2. Nasseh K, Wall T, Vujicic M. Cost barriers to dental care continue to decline, particularly among young adults and the poor. Health Policy Institute Research Brief. American Dental Association. October 2015. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_1015_2.ashx. Accessed May 10, 2018.
3. The Nielsen Company, LLC. The Nielsen Total Audience Report: Q1 2017. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2017/the-nielsen-total-audience-report-q1-2017.html. Accessed May 10, 2018.
4. Alard, M. Credit and Debt by Generation. Consol-idated Credit website. https://www.consolidatedcredit.org/financial-news/credit-and-debt-by-generation-2016/. Published January 15, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2018.
About the Author
Sameer Bhasin, MBA, MHA, is vice president of strategic alliances for CareCredit.