An Interview with CareCredit
Doug Hammond, Senior Vice President
INSIDE DENTISTRY (ID): Dentistry has not been immune to the economic climate in the United States and even globally. What do you see as the most significant change?
DOUG HAMMOND (DH): The most significant change over the past 2 years is the economy’s impact on both patient behavior and practice systems. Many patients have had their company-paid medical and dental benefits reduced or eliminated. Credit on consumer cards has decreased and the availability of consumer credit has tightened. According to Equifax, there are 90 million fewer bankcards than at their peak in 2008—nearly $1 trillion lower in available credit.
At the same time, advances in dental technology have increased the cost of dentistry, while providing the opportunity for patients to achieve a healthy and beautiful smile. This has left patients with higher out-of-pocket costs and fewer payment options, so many are choosing to phase care, or even decline or request minimal care to “just get them by.”
Unfortunately, many practices are returning to billing the patients themselves. Yet extending credit to patients through the practice and carrying accounts receivable is even more costly and risky. Even though patients may be grateful, their other monthly obligations and bills tend to take priority over paying for their dental care. This may affect patient relationships and recall and usually results in higher collection costs and bad debt.
ID: In what ways does CareCredit’s program help with this new reality?
DH: When economic pressure makes case acceptance difficult, offering our program allows a practice to present a patient with convenient payment options, including no-interest plans up to 24 months. These payment options are very popular because the patient pays no interest when their full balance is paid within the plan period. Otherwise, interest charges are assessed from the transaction date. If a patient prefers to make predictable, equal monthly payments for a period of time until the balance is paid off in full, extended payment plans are available too. Patients typically have more time to pay, up to 60 months, with interest rates that are similar to or lower than most credit cards. Plus, CareCredit’s payment plans are “revolving” lines of credit, which gives patients and their families a reliable financial resource they can use repeatedly at their dentist. We consistently communicate with our more than 8 million cardholders to encourage them to achieve and maintain their oral health. Many of these cardholders initially used CareCredit for pet, vision, hearing, or another type of healthcare and are now choosing to reuse CareCredit at their dentist. Last year millions of dollars in dentistry resulted from more than 400,000 patients a month using our online Doctor Locator to find a practice in their community where they can use CareCredit.
ID: What drives innovation at your company?
DH: For more than 23 years, our corporate culture has focused on three words: listen, respond, and innovate. Because of our relationship with our 80,000 dental practices, we are able to hear and understand—first-hand—the issues that practices face. Not only are we able to take this input and develop programs that help more patients get care, but we are able to share the best ideas that help other practices. For example, we developed a customized online Financial Policy tool. In just a matter of minutes, any dentist can answer a few simple questions and create a Financial Policy and Patient Payment Agreement Form specific to their payment preferences. We also developed a Patient Referral Kit to help practices increase patient referrals. The kit includes tips, ideas, thank-you referral cards, in-practice displays and more. And, we introduced a business review module that allows our Practice Development Managers to share key benchmarking and practice metrics to help dentists’ practices grow.
ID: How is a practice trained and what tools do you give them to set them up for success?
DH: We make training fit their practice needs and situation. We give every dental team the opportunity to be set-up with CareCredit by one of our experienced trainers. We send a dental office manager who already successfully uses our program to their practice to take the team through the simple steps of applying for CareCredit and processing transactions using their equipment. The trainers then give the practice an overview of our available resources, including the online Resource Center where they can download expert advice from practice management consultants, including scripts, tips, and our comprehensive educational audio CD library, where leading dental speakers and consultants speak to key issues and practical solutions. Then our local Practice Development Manager will visit the practice to share advanced techniques to increase practice production and communication skills, including how to enhance case presentations. Practice support is also available 24/7 through our dedicated call center. So whenever the practice needs assistance, we are accessible.
ID: How is your company helping to resolve the challenges facing dentistry?
DH: Our mission is to help more patients get care. We are also focusing on helping to bring dentistry to the most deserving segment of our population: children. Every day, children across our country, in every community, suffer from systemic infections caused by untreated oral disease. That’s why, 4 years ago, we became a Founding Donor for the Give Kids A Smile Expansion Program and continue to support the program each year, providing grants to specific programs that increase children’s access to treatment throughout the year.