For many patients, helping them find the best way to pay for a procedure is as important as selecting the procedure

What do happy patients, a great practice revenue stream, and patient credit options have in common? The connection among each of these concepts is a savvy physician who truly understands the importance of providing easy access to workable payment options for his or her patients.

In today’s hypercompetitive aesthetic-enhancement industry, success involves more than excellent technical expertise and a cadre of advanced tools of the trade. It takes a skilled marketer who devotes time and energy to understand the patient and, in particular, the patient’s financial ability and willingness to pay for the desired procedure or service.

If you are not sure that you are doing everything you can to convert patient consultations into booked appointments, don’t despair, but read on. The answer may be as simple as evaluating your current patient credit options and then providing proven payment options.

Assess Your Success
Your first step is to consider an internal assessment. Don’t worry. It’s painless, and it can be quick. When was the last time you assessed the percentage of patient inquiries or patient consultations that resulted in a scheduled procedure or service?

If you are not currently tracking conversions, this is your call to action. Your competition has surely conducted similar audits, they have identified the trends that may create barriers to service, and they have instituted their own proactive solutions. What is keeping you from obtaining the results to which you are entitled?

From your assessment—which can also be made by a good consultant—you may very well discover that you are experiencing a problem converting patient inquiries into consultations and booked appointments because of the prospective patients’ financial concerns—an often-cited barrier that keeps patients from obtaining the procedures and services they desire.

Not everyone can dig into his or her savings or other resources for an elective procedure, no matter how much they want to do so. This is where a new generation of patient-financing methods has become a significant boon to patients and physicians, as well as the entire aesthetic-enhancement industry.

An important place to jump-start your newly honed patient credit option practice tool is with your office personnel. What is your office policy for introducing patients to the possibility of patient financing? Do you offer financing to every patient? Just because you perceive a patient to be well positioned financially, do not overlook the possibility that he or she may indeed need, or simply prefer, a financing option.

You will want to make the availability of patient credit options part of the initial conversation that the potential patient has with your staff. The best way to ensure that you control the patient message at the first point of contact is to create a script for the staff member designated to field patient inquiries.

Start Early
Right from the start, you want to be sure that you provide information to the patient that cements his or her interest in learning more, and sparks his or her motivation to make the phone call for an actual consultation appointment. As part of this script, you may want to consider a policy that restricts quoting fees over the phone. Why? Because your competition may be conducting “secret-shopper” calls to learn your fee schedule, and because every patient need may be different from the next, so that your fee structure may not be “one size fits all.”

In addition, be sure that your office staff has a well-defined message regarding the possibility of patient-credit options for when the patient is ready to end the conversation. This way, the patient’s willingness to keep the consultation appointment is not hampered by his or her concern about paying for the desired procedure or services.

Remember: Every call your office receives may result in a potential patient. Make sure that the potential patient is well cared for from the very first point of contact. As it has been said, “You only have one chance to make the right first impression.” (See “Your Marketing Campaign”)

Your Marketing Campaign
The first point of contact is your chance to embark on a skillful marketing campaign. With each call, instruct your office personnel to keep the conversation flowing smoothly and to begin a relationship by listening carefully to that patient’s needs. Teach your staff active listening skills so that they can “hear” what the patient may really want but is unable or unwilling to ask for directly.

Understanding patient goals is essential here. An individual may ask for one type of service, but based on his or her goals, another procedure may be required. Be sure to require your personnel to ask for intake information at the beginning of the call, or definitely before the potential patient hangs up. This should include a phone number, an e-mail address, and a home or office mailing address. Finally, encourage them to stay with the caller until an actual consultation is booked.

Other helpful marketing tips include tracking how the potential patient located you. Create a simple form that your office staff can fill out to determine whether the individual contacted you from a flyer, mailer, newspaper ad, Web site, trade association, or other medium where you market your practice. Doing this will help you assess which marketing tactics you are presently using are working and which are not, enabling you to make adjustments accordingly.

A great way to market to your potential clients is to have a CD ready that contains information about you and your procedures, as well as before-and-after photos that are ready to be mailed or e-mailed. It should also include information about your patient-financing options.

You should create a system to book and follow up with your patients. You need to keep track of which staff member spoke to the caller. Anything that the potential patient commented on should be added to the file.

It is best for consistency if the person who took the initial call can follow up to book or confirm the appointment. Once you know the patient’s needs, keep these notes up to date. Have a section on the intake form or online medical form to record whether the person is interested in financing and wishes to learn more about it.

Make all of your services and procedures affordable to everyone, and make sure that your internal and external marketing makes people aware that your patient-financing options make your services affordable on any budget. Having your staff trained properly on patient financing is as important as having them trained on all new procedures offered by your practice. —CW

Be the Expert
Even though you rely on your staff to make the initial credit-option overture to the patient, the patient looks upon you as the physician-expert, so be sure that you completely understand patient financing. From the beginning, make sure that you are adequately involved in making the decision on which financing option you offer in your office.

As the physician, you need to be aware of the options available to the patient that put you at the best possible advantage. For example, many new no-cost options in which the physician pays nothing and the patient pays a lower rate than that offered by their own credit-card companies are available for American Society of Plastic Surgeons members. Evaluate the credit options you provide every year to ensure that you understand how future changes may increase your practice’s bottom line. You must be sure to explore these options every year—they will directly affect your income.

At the same time, remember that you must do whatever you can to help your patients achieve their goals, and providing patient financing options often is the very first step at realizing their dreams. “Patients come to me to improve their appearance and lead a more fulfilling life. I want to help every patient achieve the results they want, and providing financing options is a must,” says Alan Khoriaty, owner of Soluna Medical Spa in Miami.

Sidney Kass, MD, a plastic surgeon in St Louis Park, Minn, agrees with the importance of offering an effective financing option. He says, “In the past, we had to turn away patients who could not afford surgery. When we started a patient financing program, we were able to accommodate more patients.”

Selection Criteria
When selecting a financing provider, the key areas to look at will be:
• Merchant fee: the fee you pay to the provider to process an application and receive approval for payment. It is typically a percentage of the procedure price. Some companies offer no-merchant-fee financing.
• Patient APR: the annual percentage rate the patient will pay for the loan.
• Credit limits: the amount of financing approved for the patient—some companies offer term loans, whereas others offer a revolving line of credit.
• Processing time: the amount of time it takes to process a patient application.

“Patients usually pay for aesthetic surgery out of pocket. However, patient financing gives them more options and removes the ‘cost objection’ from the sales process,” according to Julio Gallo, MD, president of the Miami (Fla) Institute.

Whereas there are many patient-financing providers in the industry, I have elected to offer information about the three leading ones: Capital One Healthcare Finance, CareCredit Inc, and Unicorn Financial.

CareCredit Inc
Can you imagine providing your patient with an almost immediate response to his or her credit needs? And your practice receiving full payment within 2 business days? Both of these results are realities with CareCredit Inc.

With CareCredit, submitting applications is quick and easy and decisions are typically provided within minutes—or even seconds with their online application option. It offers a comprehensive range of plan options, for treatment or procedure fees from $1 to more than $25,000, with a low monthly payment to fit comfortably into almost every budget. It provides patients with revolving lines of credit so that they may use their CareCredit cards repeatedly without submitting a new application for each procedure.
|If you have a medical spa associated with your practice, the CareCredit card can also be used for spa treatments. You are able to offer your patient no-interest options for payment terms of 3 to 12 months with CareCredit, which patients appreciate very much. The company offers fixed rates of 11.9% to 16.9% for extended payment plans of 24 to 60 months.

CareCredit also has an application procedure in which you can provide a prospective patient’s name and address in advance of the consultation to obtain a “preapproval” for the amount needed. When the patient agrees to the surgery, you file the proper application and the answer is usually available within minutes.

Capital One Healthcare Finance
Almost instant gratification—that’s what many of us are looking for these days. With Capital One Healthcare Finance’s credit application process, most patients can leave the office with the approval to have their desired aesthetic procedure financed.

Capital One makes it easy for patients to afford the aesthetic surgery or noninvasive procedures that they want you to perform. It offers term loan financing from 18 to 60 months to pay for procedures that cost from $1,500 to $25,000. Your practice receives full payment from Capitol One in a few business days.

Term loan financing is provided by making a lump-sum payment to the practice when approved by the patient. The patient then makes 18 to 60 payments to Capital One to repay the loan. Patient APRs range from introductory rates of 1.9% to 23.9%. Rates are set based on the patient’s credit profile. Applications are typically processed within 2 hours.

Unicorn Financial
Offer your patients what they really want: no-interest financing. Unicorn Financial surveyed patients and found that patients overwhelmingly chose 12-, 18-, or 24-month no-interest payment plans over extended payments with double-digit interest rates.

Unicorn has an easy application process, high approval rates, instant credit decisions, and a customized online patient payment options worksheet to automatically calculate monthly payment options for fee presentation. Nonrecourse payment is processed within 24 hours and direct-deposited into your account. Activity reports are available 24/7 online. Also, Unicorn provides free Web banners and online credit applications to attract new Web site patients.

All approvals offer generous credit lines of $5,000 to $12,000 with competitive interest rates and service fees. There is no enrollment fee, monthly minimum fees, or required equipment to purchase.

There are other providers, and the field is changing all the time. The important point, in my opinion, is that you should offer different types of patient-financing plans so that patients will have as many choices as possible. This enables you to focus on providing the best possible care for the patients and the greatest return for your business.

Remember that providing credit options is just the first step in helping your patients realize their dreams. And like a baby taking its first steps, it is often the most memorable—the day their dream of moving forward begins.

Cheryl Whitman, a beauty-industry consultant for more than 20 years, is the founding board member of the Medical Spa Society and an active member of the Day Spa Association. She is the CEO of Beautiful Forever, a nationwide medical-spa consulting firm. She can be reached at (201) 541-5405 or [email protected] .

On The Web
See also “Medical Spa Patient Financing” by Rob Morris in the February 2006 PSP. Go to and click on “Archives.”