Making sure to update your fees regularly, and use that new revenue properly, is a surefire strategy for ensuring continuous practice growth and development.

FOR THE MOST PART, dental practices update their fees twice a year, once a year or not at all. I’ve heard many excuses as to why some practices fail to update their fees, from simple complacency to a fear that patients—especially those without insurance—will flee. Rarely do those excuses hold water, especially given that coping with lower margins can slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, drag a practice down.

It’s a vicious cycle. Patients consider your reviews, word of mouth, office appearance and technology (among other things) when choosing a health-care provider. Were they warmly welcomed by a smiling face eager to help? Did the office feel professional? Were patients dazzled by new technology? All those things cost money and need constant attention.

So how are you supposed to afford the best staff, the latest technology and top-flight materials without raising fees? You can’t.
You either adjust your fees to match current market realities and reinvest those earnings smartly, or deal with the downward spiral that unavoidably occurs when a business is forced to do more with less.

When it comes to the patients most likely to defect over a fee increase, you’re probably not competing with other dentists anyway. Those patients are thinking, “Should I buy a new TV or get this molar fixed that no one can see?” Patients with that mindset might go elsewhere for so many reasons that it’s out of your control, especially since the quality of your care is low on their priority list. Why expend energy on things you can’t control?

Instead, decide when and how to adjust your fees with an eye toward attracting loyal new patients who genuinely appreciate your standard of care, while also retaining the vast majority of patients who understand that prices go up in industries all the time, and health care is no different.

  1. Make fee updates standard practice at least annually. The norm is 3 to 5 percent per annum, but some practices go higher.
  2. You have full autonomy to set your UCR fees, so use it. Depending on your state, you could be protected by legislation that disallows PPOs from dictating fees on non-covered services.
  3. Update all your fees, even the ones you don’t use, to hedge against insurance downgrades.
  4. Strategize with your doctor. Make sure you’re all confident about an increase, especially if it’s been too long since the last fee update.
  5. Don’t forget to update the fees in your practice-management software, and double-check them. A minor mistake on a common fee could add up to big losses over time.
  6. If in doubt, consider hiring a third-party expert to negotiate with PPOs. Practices that don’t negotiate can, on average, lose out to the tune of $60,000 a year in net revenue. Consultants not only have more experience negotiating, but they also have contacts and relationships they can leverage to maximize your PPO reimbursements. There’s an additional benefit, too: Consultants remove this burden from your team so they can focus on what they do best.

It’s important to stay relevant in the market, which fluctuates and can change significantly. The less often you update your fees, the bigger the chasm between where you are and where you should be for your demographic. That variance can eventually become financially devastating to hardworking dentists and their businesses. So make regular fee adjustments a positive part of your operations—one that pays dividends that enable you to continually improve.

KRISTEN JORDAN is Benco Dental’s Practice Solutions Business Developer, specializing in revenue analysis. She has been an office manager, regional manager and operations executive for several large practices. Contact her at