How to Start Your Own In-house Dental Membership Plan

By Megan Lohman October 10, 2023 5 min read

Netflix, Amazon Prime and Costco are all great examples of membership plans. You, the consumer, pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the products. You have access to all their content and can binge whatever you want, whenever you want. Same thing with Amazon Prime, you pay a monthly or annual fee and you receive perks or special deals that non-Amazon Prime members do not.

Dental membership plans have been on the rise especially in the last year when people lost employer benefits during the shutdown. Savings plan, discount plan, and in-house plan have all been, up to this point, synonymous with dental membership plan – but they are not the same thing. A membership plan is a relationship directly between the provider and the patient, it creates cash flow for the practice, saves the patient money, and the plan auto-renews. Anything less than this and it’s just another savings discount plan. More and more dental practices are starting their own in-house membership plan and we couldn’t be happier. 

The important part of making your own is having a solid system for charging and tracking in your system- and a plan that’s easy for patients to understand!

Before starting your own membership plan, here’s 5 things to consider: 

  1. How will you structure your membership plan and what to charge?
  2. How will you collect membership fees? 
  3. How will you track and manage members?  
  4. When will you train the team on how to offer your in-house plan? 
  5. How will you market your plan to new and existing patients? 

Once you can answer these questions – you’re on your way to building a successful in-house dental membership plan. 

How will you structure your membership plan and determine what to charge? 

First, consider your current patient base and look at your fees. This can be the biggest factor in whether or not your patients say yes or run for the hills.  Do your patients always save money by joining your plan? If not, or if you’re not quite sure how much they are saving or how it is calculated, then it may create hesitation on their end.  Do you offer a monthly payment option?  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather pay $120 per month for my family of four than $1,440 once per year.  Offering a monthly option not only helps you grow monthly recurring revenue, but it also helps families or people on a limited or fixed income more easily accept your plan.  Do you have lots of exclusions, fine print, or different plan packages that make their brains work on overdrive?  Keeping the plan as simple as possible, with clearly stated terms is the best way to help your patients say, That’s it? Sign me up! 

We recommend calculating the fees for a child, adult, perio, and senior plan separately. What does it cost to visit your office and the standard treatment each visit entails? Then apply a small discount to make it an easy win for your patients to say “Yes!”

How will you collect dental membership fees? 

Based on personal experience, collecting membership payments is only part of the equation. It’s actually the simplest and most straightforward part to implement. It’s the other administrative tasks that can make managing a growing membership plan difficult without the appropriate tools.

In our dental practice we already had this in place. Our existing merchant processor had a tool where we could store credit cards or ACH information and schedule recurring payments. This worked great! We collected our member’s payment information, scheduled the first payment, set the frequency for future payments, and voilà! We had our well-oiled machine off and running. Most practices already have a payment processor on site so I would find out if you can set up recurring payments with your existing merchant. 

How will you track and manage members in your membership plan? 

This is where running your own plan starts to get tricky. We recently had Andre Shiradan show us his tips and tricks for managing members in Eaglesoft and most PMS can do the same. But there’s a bit more to it than just marking them in your system. You’ll need to establish a “plan” in your PMS so you can track benefits and usage. Then your membership plan should auto-renew. You are creating this plan for the patient’s benefit and it has to be simple for you to manage. Without this, it is a huge headache for your team and will not create the kind of business impact you envision. Most membership plans are for a single 12 month term with an auto-renewal function. It is the patient’s responsibility to make sure they use all of their covered services within that 12 month period. A good membership plan will send transaction receipts. It will also notify your patients and team when cards on file are expiring or payments have failed. 

According to American Dental Support, 40% of dental practices offer a subscription plan to patients. Many of them however, do not have a management system or software for tracking member participation and billing.

Anyone can create a plan that benefits patients. But the real goal should be to create a plan that benefits the business, too.

Lack of technology and automation often leads to more administrative work for a practice team. And who has time for that? If the team is handling more of the administrative tasks, it takes longer to enroll patients and manage the plan. As a result, a smaller percentage of the practice’s uninsured patient base is enrolled. Ultimately, the membership plan feels like a lot of extra work for the team with a low impact on revenue. Or even worse, a loss in profitability.

When will you train the team on how to offer your in-house plan?

Your staff is your biggest tool in your dental office. They are the ones that see and speak to the patients regularly so they need to be well versed in offering the membership plan and see the value of it. The easiest way to train your team is to actually pitch the plan to them as if they were a patient in a role-playing scenario. Then have them practice discussing your new plan with you. 

 I am not sure how it works in your dental office but when I am sitting in the operatory chair, I am a captive audience. Literally anything they want to tell me I am going to hear because honestly, where else am I going to go!? Take this opportunity to have your staff mention the membership program and again before check out. 

How will you market your plan to new and existing patients?

The secret sauce to a successful membership plan is the working men/women behind the desk. A strong administrative team running the front end of the practice will make even the most complicated plan grow.  When trying to figure out how well your plan will grow, consider these questions: How comfortable are they talking numbers and finances with patients? How well do they understand insurance and what’s being offered in the market?  Are they bought into your plan being the best option for your patients? Can they easily manage the plan?  Are they confident when giving patients the plan details?  If the answer is no to any of these, your plan could hit a bottleneck even if it’s a perfectly structured plan.

Aside from utilizing your team to talk to patients about membership plans, we still highly recommend featuring your plan on your website, emails, social channels, and even a blog if you have one.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with starting or managing your in-house membership plan, schedule a free call with our team to see how we can help. In addition to all the free resources on our site, we can show you how using a software to manage your membership plan and use our marketing to grow your plan.

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