For 19 years, Dr. James Klarsch worked two days a week at the South St. Louis County satellite office of his orthodontic practice. Then, in 2008, a Chrysler plant located near the office closed.

“Within a matter of months, my practice simply dried up,” says Dr. Klarsch. “New volume was practically non-existent.”

Dr. Klarsch made the difficult decision to close the office, transferring remaining patients to his main office in West St. Louis County.  With one office having been a casualty of the rapidly deteriorating economy Dr. Klarsch realized that the economic situation could impact families in any area.

“Families anywhere could suffer lay-offs of one or both parents,” he says. “And as the stock market declined at the end of the year, I realized that anyone with limited cash on hand and intending to pay for the cost of orthodontic treatment by selling some stock would be unlikely to want to do that.”

As the economy continued to decline, Dr. Klarsch feared that parents might feel they needed to postpone orthodontic treatment for their children. And prospective adult patients who had worked and saved for orthodontic treatment might also postpone it, fearing lay-offs. Anyone who had lost dental insurance that would have funded orthodontic treatment might easily consider it impossible to afford without that benefit.

As a member of the AAO Council on Communications, Dr. Klarsch appreciates the role that a variety of marketing channels can play in informing the public about each aspect of orthodontic treatment. Although he does not utilize direct mail or media advertising for his practice, Dr. Klarsch took a close look at his practice’s Web site content and decided to strengthen its information about the financial options available for covering the costs of treatment.

In addition, like many orthodontists, Dr. Klarsch relies on an experienced staff member, office manager Danielle High, to communicate financial options to families during the consultation process – and to reassure them about the office’s financial flexibility beginning with the first phone call.

“We evaluate how we present information about financial options with the constant goal of ensuring that everyone understands that we are deeply committed to finding the best way for each family to afford the treatment needed by the patient,” says Dr. Klarsch. “It is important to keep improving our financial consultation process at any time, but it is especially important now as unemployment continues to be high and many people continue to worry, even if their income is steady. We keep working until we find a financial plan that will fit each family’s comfort level. We let them know to expect that as we ask for their feedback and input.”