Price of everything and the value of nothing

Opinion with Dr John Barry

Professor John Ruskin was born in 1819 and died in 1900 but his words have an even more profound meaning today especially when it comes to dentistry.

He said: “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

“The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.

“There is scarcely anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse, and sell a little more cheaply. The person who buys on price alone is this man’s lawful prey.”

I titled this article ‘Price of everything and value of nothing’ simply to highlight that some patients only judge on price if that is all they have to judge you on. It is critically important that all of your staff are trained not to give out bland cost estimates over the phone. We have heard this in numerous practices and it is deadly!

If patients are shopping on price alone how on earth can you possibly get someone to cross your threshold if they hear a simple €45 for a check up and €600 for a crown? This is ridiculous and is bound to lead to patients not coming in (unless of course you want to be seen to be the cheapest around).

There are numerous simple techniques to counter this. When a prospective patient calls up and asks about the price of an item of treatment, for example a crown, the trained receptionist will ask a question in return to change the tack. For example: “If you are enquiring about the cost of a crown here, have you been to a dentist and had a quote for a crown?” Answer: yes. “What type of crown have you been quoted for?” The usual answer is: “I’m not sure”. How could a patient know? They are not dentists and have very little knowledge in this area.

The trained receptionist will say something along the lines of “Every patient is unique, every item of treatment is unique and we would love the opportunity to quote you for this item of work. If I make an appointment we will be able to give you a detailed quote once you have been seen. We may even be able to offer you a range of options.”

Train your staff, give options and try to get judged on quality and value rather than price. If you are not comfortable training them, get the professionals in.

Dr John Barry is operations director of the Dental Plan.