Free Consultation?

by Jordan Soll, DDS

Recently, the wife of my friend and colleague had breast augmentation and abdominal plasty. During one of our ritual weekend runs my friend explained how things came about. He began by telling me about the consultation process. When they entered the office of the well-known and respected plastic surgeon they were required to pay the $150 consultation fee. They were then taken into the doctor’s consultation room for a 15-minute meeting that identified his wife’s expectations and put into context what the surgeon could accomplish. The professional fee for the procedure was $20,000. The fee was to be paid in the following manner: 30% ($6,000) on scheduling the appointment, which was 4 months in advance of the surgery; the balance, by VISA or certified cheque, was due two weeks prior to the surgery, to ensure the appointment was confirmed.

After hearing this I realized that we have a long way to go before we reach the level of public respect for our cosmetic procedures that is currently enjoyed by plastic surgeons. It is amazing to see how we strive to undercut each other by advertisements for “cosmetic procedures” that can be assessed with a “free consultation.” It is interesting to observe that we have little appreciation and respect for the time and effort involved to acquire the skills necessary to deliver the procedures that our patients demand. In addition the bar is continuously being raised. This precipitates greater expectations from the consumer, and a continuous commitment from the practitioner, to deliver an increasingly superior restoration. Why bother spending thousands of dollars, and investing hundreds of hours of commitment to education, to give away your time in the hope that the patient will proceed with treatment? It is often said and is most certainly true that, “people only value what they pay for.”

For the dentist who is dedicated to building a cosmetics-based practice it is imperative to determine a value for the services that will be rendered. An example of this need for “360 degree thinking” is a recent article on NBC’s Today Show co-host Katie Couric. Couric, who earns $7.5 million/year (where did I go wrong?) keeps fit by working out with High Voltage 52, the onetime director of a New Jersey Spa. Her regimen includes a four times a week 60-minute cardio and weight workout. What is unusual about this is that High Voltage’s fee starts at $7,500/ week. Couric also spends $550 for her snappy haircuts. The professionals who supply Couric with the services she requires have identified the value of their abilities and have assessed them accordingly. For a profession that consistently receives high marks from the public for integrity, it seems peculiar that we do everything we possibly can to sabotage ourselves. If we could add up all the time we’ve spent on free consultations we would not be so keen to give away our services.

As we become well established in the “Knowledge Based Economy” it becomes increasingly clear that individuals who possess knowledge are the ones who succeed. As the industrial age was about enhancing muscle power, the knowledge age is about enhancing the powers of the mind. Individuals who reside in what I refer to as the Zone of Peak Performance realize they must refine their unique skills to maximize the demand for these services; the more refined the skills the greater the demand. Hence, witness the large salaries of professional athletes and entertainers. Within our own profession, dental specialists focus on one skill and refine it to the best of their ability. If it is a skill that is in scarce supply then a high level of compensation is justified.

If you are going to hold yourself out to the public as one who possesses the skills to deliver the cosmetic procedures that are increasingly in demand, then it behooves you to set your professional fees accordingly. As your level of expertise becomes more defined and your ability increases, you will begin to reside within the Zone of Peak Performance. “Charge what you are worth or you become worth what you charge.” As for my friend and his wife, they never regretted their decision for one moment. OH