FREE Consults – What Say You?

Episode 086

What are your thoughts on FREE consults for patients? This is a question I tackle (sorry, I don’t have the definitive answer) in this week’s episode of Business of Dentistry.

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We are dealing with a concern about free consults in my practice. In general, I’m not a big fan of giving free things from my practice. Some people think free consults are loss leaders. The idea is to give free exams to get people in the door and when they meet your staff and you and go through your customer experience  they will come to you for their future dental needs.

While I understand the concept, I think if you give something away for free people will value it and perceive it as not being worth anything. Plus consumers today are savvy, they know there is a catch to giving away an exam for free. And I think we are diminishing the value of the service we provide.

I say all of that to get into why I brought this up in the first place: we are giving away free consults for anyone looking to do dental implants.

We do a free CT scan and a free consult which is typically close to an hour to 1.5 hours of our time. Most of that is done by Meredith, my implant treatment coordinator. I come in and go over specifics as it is necessary. But regardless of who is with the potential patient we don’t charge for any of our time or our efforts.

Now our office is unique in that we do oral surgery and we get referrals from other practices for oral surgeries. We do free consults for those referrals.

But somewhere along the line people started to think we did free consults for everything. We don’t. But we have policies that conflict with each other: if you come in to talk about removing your wisdom teeth then you’ll get an office visit and will be charged for it.

But if you come in for a dental implant visit then you will get a free consult. There’s a conflict there.

In addition to the conflict in policies, another problem with free consults is we diminish the value of the implant itself.

Compounding these two issues is yet a third problem: today we get a lot more traffic online and we are getting more direct referrals as a result. We are getting people, people I call “free agents”, who are interested in dental implants and sign up for the free consult right away.

But a lot of these people don’t show up for their free consultations, as opposed to the people who are referred to us. Referrals typically show up, but the people who find us online often are no shows.

We don’t have a good process in place to pre-screen dental implants. If we had a better pre-screening process I think we could find out from people if they can afford to pay for the implants or not, and talk to them about how they expect to pay for it. Many people think Medicare will cover it because it’s a surgical procedure, but that’s not always the case.

So if we pre-screened potential dental implant patients better we’d clear up these issues and we’d avoid the no-shows and giving away our time for the consults.

What we are thinking about implementing is a consultation fee, a flat fee that includes our time plus the CT scan. People in my area are charging anywhere from $250 to $350. We are considering charging a fee in that range, but then crediting that fee back to the cost of the implants after people have the procedure done.

In essence it’s a free consult but it’s on the back end of the procedure, after the patient has followed through. But if the person opts not to do the consult then it’s a fee they have paid, and at least we have been compensated for our time and efforts.

We are considering doing this so I’d appreciate your feedback and would love to hear what you are doing and what your experiences are with free consults. Shoot me an email or leave a comment below and let me know if you have been through this and what you have done after you join me on episode 86 of Business of Dentistry.

Tweetable: “We have to bring value to our patients.”

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