Why are everybodies private dental fees the same (or nearly the same)?

I’ve just bought a new camera and I’m delighted with it. I researched the market (magazines and the internet) and went for a well made, Japanese, metal bodied, micro 4/3, mirror-less, rangefinder camera with a fixed lens and fantastic internal software which produces beautiful life-like and richly coloured photographs. I could have paid 5X more for the German equivalent or 5x less for a plastic point and shoot. I’m very comfortable with the quality and the price point. Like most folk, I made this discretionary buying decision based on my perception of the quality, the price point and the reputation of the manufacturer, in just the same way that we all buy: cars, kitchens, clothes, holidays and dental equipment!

So, how are patients served when it comes to choosing private dental care? Well, chance would be a fine thing! The curious situation we find is that private dental fees are pretty much the same from St Austell to Dundee. Surprisingly, most practices position their private fees within circa 20% of each other.
Something like:

  • £60 for a new patient,
  • £35 for a check up,
  • £50 to see the Hygienist,
  • A half hour filling £100,
  • A metal free crown £550
  • And a single implant, £1900.

I suppose that either, everybody has done the same maths and come to the same conclusion or, (much more likely) nobody has done the maths and everyone is copying each other! (Try googling, “affordable private dental care”, even so-called affordable private practices are charging more or less the same fees as those who don’t make such a claim.) So, why are crowns £500, Ortho £3000, and a digital X-ray £10? When they could be £750, £6,000 and £15, or even:  £375, £2,200 and £7.50. And yet, private fees the length and breadth of the country are similar.

Unlike my camera buying spree, patients are faced with a very limited choice in terms of fees when they go shopping for a new private dental practice and they will struggle to make a judgement on the quality of the offer by looking at the fees (particularly if the meagre fee guide has lots of low fees with the prefix, “from £X”)… Instead, they find practices huddling together, making similar claims, for similar services at similar fees.

The level of fees in your practice can serve two important functions. Clearly, fees are the power behind your business model making your business profitable (or not) and they can position and differentiate your practice in the market place. It’s this second function which many Principals have yet to see as an opportunity!

When we get involved in fee setting with clients, we ask three questions:

What are the practice’s costs and how much profit does the Principal expect (or need) to make?
What evidence is there that patients will pay £X for this service in this area?
How do they want their practice to be perceived in their market? As the most expensive? The cheapest? Or between the two and if so, where between the two?

The maths usually starts with an hourly rate, somewhere between £170 and £300 per hour:  a rate which pays the bills and makes a profit. (Remember, an individual surgery costs around £500 per day or £60-70 per hour to open the surgery door before paying for materials, labs or a clinician to drive the dental chair.) Most Principals know what fees their competitors are setting and have an intuitive sense of what patients will pay in their town. The choice, then, is whether to use the fees as a way of positioning the practice, so as to give an important message to prospective and existing patients as to what to expect in terms of quality and service.

Together we set the fees, some at the hourly rate, but most either below it, (Check Ups, New Patient Consultations, Kid’s fillings etc) or above it, (Tooth Whitening, Crowns, Implants and anything the patients have more than one of.) It’s important that the fees appear congruent to a new patient. I often look at a practice’s fees and find that the some of their fees are rather high and some are too low, which delivers an odd message. When the fees are right, the Principal can be confident that the practice will make sufficient profit, the patients will say yes to the treatment plans and from the outside looking in, the patients can make an informed choice about what quality and service to expect from the practice. It’s worth saying that small differences in fees between practices are ineffective as a stand-out. In our experience, there has to be around a 30% difference in fees between practices in order for patients to differentiate between them.

So, why not stop copying your competitors and set your fees to give a clear message about your practice, which your patients and (prospective patients) will appreciate and understand.

If you would like a chat about how to set or change your fees, you can contact me on
t.  0845 299 7209

Best wishes,

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