Offering payment options can have a profound influence on patients’ attitudes toward your practice.  Pricing concerns still weigh heavily on the consumer. The availability of a payment plan came in fourth behind only the hearing care professional’s reputation, products/services offered, and location of the office/practice.

A hearing health care practice is only as good as its employees. Key to the success of any audiology practice are perceptive and friendly practitioners and professional, self-directed support staff. However, one unsung hero in the office setting appears to be the third-party financing plan.

Consider financing plans as a sort of “twelfth man” in your all-pro personnel lineup. According to a recent study1 conducted by Inquire Market Research on behalf of CareCredit, financing programs offer the following key benefits toward closing the sale:

  • They reduce the number of practices a patient visits before deciding to get hearing help.
  • They encourage patients to get the best technology to meet their hearing needs, whether or not patients have the money available themselves.
  • They contribute toward patients’ positive perceptions of the practices from which they receive hearing aids.1

According to this survey of 200 patients of hearing care professionals’ offices that use third-party financing, when offices/practices make their patients aware of the availability of payment plans, patients feel more comfortable with the practitioners’ recommendations and have a higher sense of respect for the practice. In other words, the payment plan is indispensable toward convincing many patients to give hearing aids a chance.

Taking “Plastic” Isn’t Enough

Most practices involved in this study accepted credit cards, but that is often not enough. Ken Menard, BC-HIS, owner of The Hearing Aid Center, with three offices around Richmond, Va, found that despite placing logos for Visa and MasterCard in his ads, patients didn’t want to charge more on their accounts. Or, some may have been too close to their card limits to finance a big-ticket purchase like hearing aids.

Menard has been offering payment plans for about 5 years. Nowadays, in his promotional materials, he simply tells people that his practice offers an instant, interest-free financing option. “It takes the stigma away from credit,” he says of the wording he uses. Plus, his patients feel comfortable using the payment plans because they leave their credit cards available for emergencies, Menard says.

Menard has noticed that some of his patients may be able to afford hearing aids on their own, but their money is tied up in CDs or other kinds of accounts. He said that many of these patients have access to their money soon after the hearing aid purchase, and these patients find payment plans, particularly those with no-interest financing, appealing because they can purchase hearing aids and begin paying them off without accumulating interest.

According to the Inquire Market Research study, when a practitioner advertises the availability of financing, as Menard does, or even within the office itself via literature, a display, or a staff member (where nine out of 10 survey respondents first heard about payment plans1), patients are more likely to end their search for a practitioner to improve their hearing ability much sooner. A total of 67% of respondents purchased hearing aids from the first practice they visited, and nine out of 10 chose a practitioner from just two practices.1

Having a payment plan in place increases the odds that a patient will seek hearing help from you.

Practice Selection Observations

To illustrate the importance of payment plan availability to patients, the survey reported that, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being the lowest priority and 10 being the highest), patients surveyed gave availability of payment plans an average rating of 8 when it came to selecting a hearing care professional. Half of the patients rated this practice attribute as a 9 or 10.

Additionally, the survey reported that, although the professional’s reputation, products offered, and practice location were the top three most important factors in practitioner selection, availability of payment plans ranked fourth, making it “a more important consideration than referrals from a physician or a friend, the office staff, or a low price” (Figure 1). Additionally, payment plans were more influential than newspaper ads, direct mail offers, or yellow page ads.1

When it came to actually purchasing the hearing aid, payment plan availability was the second most important consideration, with only the achievement of good-quality hearing ranking as more important (Figure 2).1

In addition to winning patients over, offering a payment plan saves practices from awkward payment situations with patients. The Inquire Market Research study showed that, if no third-party financing is available at a practice, the first reaction many patients (32% of the 200 surveyed) have is to ask the hearing professional to carry a “tab” for the patient, billing monthly for payment (Figure 3).1 For the sake of the practice’s cash flow, this is an option best left for patients in emergency situations, Menard says.

When payment plans are available, patients who have trouble affording hearing aids do not ask hearing care practices to give them leniency on paying their bills.

No More Delays

Even worse than asking for payment leniency, nearly a quarter of respondents to the Inquire Research study said they would seek a sub-optimal alternative by going with a less-expensive de­vice, and a fifth of those surveyed would delay care altogether.1 Industry research indicates that it takes years for a patient to admit to a hearing problem and seek to treat it; for many patients, having a payment plan in place ensures that they do not wait any longer to get the best help possible.

Having a payment plan available also encourages patients to choose the best technology to aid their hearing loss. Over one-third (36%) of respondents to the Inquire Research survey agreed with the statement “I spent more to obtain the best technology possible because a financing program is available.”1

Although patients may be willing to spend more if they are approved for a payment plan, Menard advised hearing care practitioners to stick to their best recommendations and not indicate the availability of more expensive hearing aids if the patient is approved for more financing than the cost of the hearing aid that is being purchased. Trying to upgrade the technology at the point of financing approval will be perceived as a sales ploy by patients and turn them off, Menard says.

Practice Report Card

When used properly in a practice, finance plans foster good feelings about the practice and the hearing aids. In the survey, seven out of eight of the statements posed to patients regarding attitudes toward the practice received a rating of nine or 10 from 50%-56% of patients (Figure 4). Statements the respondents strongly agreed with included:

“I feel that the practice is looking out for my best interest.”

“I am more likely to return to the practice for additional services.”

“I am more likely to recommend the practice to friends and family.”

“I left the practice feeling that I received a good value.”

Annette Vanderlinden, patient care coordinator at NewSound Hearing Aid Center in San Antonio, has noticed that offering payment plans at her practice has improved relationships with patients. Patients seem to have more confidence in making hearing aid purchases when before they might have hesitated, stating that they were unsure, indicating that they’d like to leave and “think things through,” or explaining that they didn’t have the money to make the purchase. They trust the practitioners’ recommendations more.

Explaining the Plans

Menard is satisfied with how payment plans have helped his practice, but has some advice for those considering offering third-party financing. Most important is ensuring that patients fully understand their payment responsibilities. Menard has had several instances where patients mistakenly thought the interest-free period was also a payment-free period. These patients “get in a bind because they haven’t made payments before,” he says. Be sure to fully explain the terms of financing to patients who qualify.

To make terms explicit, Vanderlinden demonstrates the mathematical aspects of the payments on paper for clients. For example, if a patient qualifies for an 18-month payment plan, she writes down the amount the person is financing, then divides this figure by 18 months and shares the resulting number with the patient. She encourages the patient to focus on this number when understanding what the monthly payment will be, rather than the value for the minimum monthly payment. Additionally, she stresses that patients will be penalized if they don’t pay on time, and indicates how much interest they will accrue with late payments.

Provided that patients understand their responsibilities, hearing aid financing plans encourage patients to purchase hearing aids sooner than if they were unaware of the plans. Additionally, financing enables patients to be more confident about purchasing hearing aids and be more satisfied with them and the practice’s service.

References
1. Inquire Research. Purchase behavior among hearing loss patients: Results of a study with 200 patients requiring a hearing device. Santa Ana, Calif: Inquire Market Research; 2006.

Contributor: Danielle Campbell-Angah is a former editor of an audiology magazine and currently works as a freelance writer for CareCredit, as well as for other hearing health care companies.

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